Forty-one morphologically distinct bacterial isolates were developed from six lignin-containing environments. Each isolate was initially screened for potential lignin-degrading activity using relative growth on a lignocellulosic substrate and relative decolorization of a polymeric dye. Screened isolates were then tested for the ability to oxidize various lignin-related monomers, and the dimers anisoin and veratrylglycerol-beta-guaiacyl ether. Although most of the isolates oxidized the monomers, only two successfully oxidized the dimers. The dimer-degrading isolates were tested for extracellular activity against the beta-O-4 dimer veratryl-glycerol-beta-guaiacyl ether. No activity was detected for the isolates. Phanerochaete chrysosporium Burds used as a positive control demonstrated a high degree of activity in each assay. Extensive ultrastructural studies of lignocellulose alteration by the dimer-degrading isolates were conducted via light and transmission electron microscopy. These studies indicate that one of the isolates, identified as Serratia marcescens, is capable of degrading highly lignified secondary cell wall components. This activity is localized, apparently requiring direct contact between cells and substrate, which could be facilitated by an associated glycocalix. The results of the dimer degradation assays concur with the characterization of the responsible enzyme system as being membrane associated.