The structures of bacterial communities were studied in activated sludge samples obtained from the aerobic and anaerobic zones of a wastewater treatment plant showing enhanced phosphorous removal. Samples were analyzed by in situ hybridization with oligonucleotide probes complementary to selected regions of the 16S and 23S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) characteristic for defined phylogenetic entities (genera and larger groups). The microbial community structures revealed by molecular techniques were compared with the compositions of culturable bacterial communities, obtained from the characterization of 255 isolates from tryptone-soy (TS) agar and R2A agar. These isolates were characterized by 89 physiological tests and their cellular fatty acid patterns, and identified. Culture-dependent techniques indicated the following distribution: different Aeromonas spp. (2.7-8.3% on R2A agar; 45.0-63.7% on TS agar), Acinetobacter spp. (5.4-9.0% on R2A agar; 5.0-9.1% on TS agar), Pseudomonas spp. (up to 10% on R2A agar) and Shewanella putrefaciens (up to 3.0% on R2A agar), all members of the gamma subclass of Proteobacteria, were isolated most frequently. The relatively rare isolates of the beta subclass were identified as Acidovorax spp., Alcaligenes spp., and Comamonas spp.. The Gram-positive bacteria (high DNA G+C) were assigned mainly to Arthrobacter spp., Microbacterium spp., and Mycobacterium phlei. In order to assess the in situ abundance of the most frequently isolated genus, Aeromonas, two rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes were developed. The two gamma proteobacterial genera Aeromonas and Acinetobacter constituted less than 5% of all bacteria. In situ, Proteobacteria belonging to the beta subclass and high G+C Gram-positive bacteria were dominant. From filamentous bacteria, Sphaerotilus spp. and Leptothrix spp. could be detected occasionally. In addition, one sample contained a high proportion of the morphologically distinct filaments of Microthrix parvicella.