Bacterial strains expressing toluene and naphthalene dioxygenase were used to examine the sequence of reactions involved in the oxidation of 1,2-dihydronaphthalene. Toluene dioxygenase of Pseudomonas putida F39/D oxidizes 1,2-dihydronaphthalene to (+)-cis-(1S,2R)-dihydroxy-1,2,3,4-tetrahydronaphthalene, (+)-(1R)-hydroxy-1,2-dihydronaphthalene, and (+)-cis-(1R,2S)-dihydroxy-1,2-dihydronaphthalene. In contrast, naphthalene dioxygenase of Pseudomonas sp. strain NCIB 9816/11 oxidizes 1,2-dihydronaphthalene to the opposite enantiomer, (-)-cis-(1R,2S)-dihydroxy-1,2,3,4-tetrahydronaphthalene and the identical (+)-cis-(1R,2S)-dihydroxy-1,2-dihydronaphthalene. Recombinant Escherichia coli strains expressing the structural genes for toluene and naphthalene dioxygenases confirmed the involvement of these enzymes in the reactions catalyzed by strains F39/D and NCIB 9816/11. 1-Hydroxy-1,2-dihydronaphthalene was not formed by strains expressing naphthalene dioxygenase. These results coupled with time course studies and deuterium labelling experiments indicate that, in addition to direct dioxygenation of the olefin, both enzymes have the ability to desaturate (dehydrogenate) 1,2-dihydronaphthalene to naphthalene, which serves as a substrate for cis dihydroxylation.