Ecological and physiological effects of the sulphate-reducing bacterium (SRB) Desulfovibrio desulfuricans on other intestinal organisms were investigated in anaerobic chemostats (dilution rate approximately 0.2 h-1). Reproducible defined bacterial communities were used in these experiments, comprising 14 different saccharolytic and amino acid fermenting species: Bifidobacterium longum, Bif. adolescentis, Bif. pseudolongum, Bif. infantis, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, Bact. vulgatus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Enterococcus faecalis, Ent. faecium, Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, Cl. butyricum, Cl. innocuum, Cl. bifermentans. Lactobacillus and Cl. bifermentans populations never rose above minimum detection limits (log10 2.0 and 4.0, respectively) under the experimental conditions employed in these studies. Inclusion of Des. desulfuricans in bacterial cultures (c. log10 8.4 viable cells ml-1) resulted in marked reductions (i.e. greater than 1 log) in planktonic cell population densities of several species, particularly Bif. longum, Cl. perfringens and Bif. pseudolongum. The two bacteroides species were unaffected by Des. desulfuricans, while numbers of Cl. butyricum increased. Extensive wall growth developed in the SRB culture, consisting mainly of Des. desulfuricans (log10 9.2 viable cells ml-1), Bact. thetaiotaomicron and Bact. vulgatus, with lesser numbers of facultative anaerobes, Cl. perfringens and Bif. longum. Wall growth was associated with a reduction in planktonic cell mass and increased acid production by the cultures. Chemotaxonomic study of chemostat microbiotas, on the basis of cellular fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) analyses, showed the existence of characteristic bacteroides (C15) and bifidobacterial (C18) markers, but desulfovibrio markers (i-C15:0, C16:0, i-C17:1) could be identified. The metabolic activities of saccharolytic organisms were altered in the SRB chemostat, including synthesis of a number of hydrolytic enzymes involved in carbohydrate breakdown, such as alpha-galactosidase, alpha-glucosidase and beta-galactosidase, together with several mucinolytic enzymes. High concentrations of sulphide (8.2 mmol 1-1) were detected in the SRB chemostat, suggesting that this metabolite may have been inhibitory to some species. Saccharolytic organisms growing in the SRB fermenter utilized more starch, but less galactose-containing polymers, which correlated with the observed glycosidase activities. Profound differences were also recorded with respect to fermentation product formation in the chemostats, where a major switch to acetate production occurred in the SRB culture, with concomitant reductions in propionate, butyrate and lactate, which is an important electron donor for desulfovibrios.