Failure of a continuously aerated sequencing batch reactor (SBR) pilot plant-enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) process, designed to remove phosphorus from the clarified effluent from a conventional non-EBPR wastewater treatment plant, was associated with the dominance (c. 50% of the biovolume) of gammaproteobacterial coccobacilli. Flow cytometry and subsequent clone library generation from an enriched population of these Gammaproteobacteria showed that their 16S rRNA genes were most similar to partial clone sequences obtained from an actively denitrifying SBR community, and from anaerobic : aerobic EBPR communities. Under the SBR operating conditions used here, these cells stained for poly-beta-hydroxyalkanoates, but never polyphosphate. Applying FISH probes designed against them in combination with microautoradiography showed that they could also assimilate acetate 'aerobically'. FISH analyses of biomass samples from the full-scale treatment plant providing the pilot plant feed showed that they were present there in high numbers. However, they were not detected by FISH in laboratory-scale communities of the same aerated laboratory-scale EBPR process even when EBPR had failed, or from several full-scale EBPR plants or other activated sludge processes.