Plant-parasitic nematodes are major agronomic pests. Purified commercial chitinase inhibited egg hatch of the potato cyst nematode, Globodera rostochiensis (Ro1) in vitro by up to 70% when compared with an untreated control. A screening strategy was devised to isolate chitinase-producing bacteria from a soil with no documented history of damage due to potato cyst nematodes in the last 30 years and that was cropped with potato cv. 'Kerr's Pink'. Only 137 of 3,200 bacterial isolates tested for chitinase production on chitin agar plates were chitinase-positive (i.e. about 4%). All the chitinase-producing bacteria tested in vitro could reduce the hatch of G. rostochiensis eggs, some by up to 90% compared with the controls. One of these strains, M1-12, was identified as Stenotrophomonas maltophilia and a second strain UP1 was classified as a Chromobacterium sp. based on morphological and biochemical tests. The inoculum level and the incubation time influenced the degree of inhibition of egg hatch of G. rostochiensis by M1-12 and UP1 in vitro. An initial cell density of 10(6) CFU ml(-1) or greater and an incubation time of two weeks was needed to inhibit egg hatch. The longer UP1 was allowed to act on the eggs of G. rostochiensis the greater the level of inhibition. Strains M1-12 and UP1 also reduced the ability of G. rostochiensis to hatch in soil microcosms planted with potato seed tubers cv. 'Desiree'. The inhibition of egg hatch of G. rostochiensis by chitinase-producing bacteria is suggested as a biocontrol strategy for the defence of potato crops from potato cyst nematodes.