Analysis of human gut contents showed that substantial quantities of soluble protein, ammonia and branched chain volatile fatty acids occurred throughout the large intestine [0.1-24.4 g (kg contents)-1, 7.7-66.0 mmol (kg contents)-1 and 1.5-11.1 mmol (kg contents)-1 respectively]. The presence of these metabolites suggested that substantial proteolysis was occurring. In vitro studies showed that casein and bovine serum albumin were partly degraded in slurries of human faeces over a 96 h incubation period, to produce TCA-soluble peptides, ammonia and volatile fatty acids. Proteolytic activity detected in the stools of five individuals ranged from 3.5 to 19.8 mg azocasein hydrolysed h-1 (g faecal material)-1. Washed cell and washed particulate faecal fractions accounted for 24-67% of total activity. The predominant proteolytic bacteria in the faecal samples examined were identified as Bacteroides spp. [1.0 X 10(11)-1.3 X 10(12) (g dry wt faeces)-1] and Propionibacterium spp. [1.2 X 10(8)-1.0 X 10(10) (g dry wt faeces)-1]. Other proteolytic bacteria which occurred in lesser numbers were identified as belonging to the genera Streptococcus, Clostridium, Bacillus and Staphylococcus. These results demonstrate that the gut microflora could potentially play a major role in proteolysis in the human colon.