A diverse range of microorganisms capable of growth on phenylacetic acid as the sole source of carbon and energy were isolated from soil. Sixty six different isolates were identified and grouped according to 16S rRNA gene RFLP analysis. Subsequent sequencing of 16S rDNA from selected strains allowed further characterization of the phenylacetic acid degrading population isolated from soil. Nearly half (30) of the isolates are Bacillus species while the rest of the isolates are strains from a variety of genera namely, Arthrobacter, Pseudomonas, Rhodococcus, Acinetobacter, Enterobacter, Flavobacterium, and Paenibacillus. Sixty-one of the sixty-six strains reproducibly grew in defined minimal liquid culture medium (E2). All strains isolated grew when at least one hydroxylated derivative of phenylacetic acid was supplied as the carbon source, while 59 out of the 61 strains tested, accumulated ortho-hydroxyphenylacetic acid in the assay buffer; when pulsed with phenylacetic acid. Oxygen consumption experiments failed to indicate a clear link between phenylacetic acid and hydroxy-substituted phenylacetic acid in isolates from a broad range of genera. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.