Oceanomonas baumannii(T) is a novel halotolerant bacterium which was isolated from the estuary of the river Wear (Sunderland, UK). When grown in tryptone soya broth it can tolerate high levels of phenol, which is not utilised as a carbon source in this medium. However, the level of tolerance was reduced from 35 mM to 3 mM phenol as salinity increased from 1% to 12% NaCl (w/v). Increasing salinity up to 12% NaCl also decreased the growth rate 8-fold and caused modifications to the cytoplasmic membrane particularly anionic phosphatidylglycerol levels, which doubled at the expense of zwitterionic phosphatidylethanolamine. In addition, changes in the phospholipid fatty acid composition were noted, cis-vaccenic acid decreased significantly at higher salinities. Intracellular solute levels also increased with increasing salinity and there was an accumulation of the compatible solutes ectoine, glycine betaine and glutamate. The addition of phenol to osmotically compromised cultures led to a further modification of the cytoplasmic membrane phospholipid composition, in particular, that the decrease in zwitterionic phosphatidylethanolamine and the increase of anionic phospholipid species was much less pronounced. A further decrease in unsaturation, particularly in the proportion of cis-vaccenic acid, and the mean chain length of the fatty acids suggested that this response was important in maintaining membrane integrity in the presence of phenol. (C) 2000 Federation of European Microbiological Societies.