AIMS:This study investigated whether there were differences in RAPD fingerprints between already described genomic species of Acinetobacter and those from activated sludge systems. Whether plant-specific populations of acinetobacters exist was also examined. METHODS AND RESULTS:Fifty-two isolates of Acinetobacter from four biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) systems of different configurations, and the known genomic species, were characterized using RAPD-PCR, and fragments separated on agarose gels. Patterns were analysed using Gel Pro software and data analysed numerically. RAPD-PCR produced patterns suggesting that many environmental isolates differ from known genomic species. In two cases, strains from individual plants clustered closely enough together to imply that there may be plant-specific populations of acinetobacters. CONCLUSION:The data suggest that current understanding of the taxonomic status of Acinetobacter may need modifying to accommodate non-clinical isolates, as many of the clusters emerging after numerical analysis of RAPD-PCR fragments from activated sludge isolates were quite separate from the clusters containing the already described genomic species. Some evidence was also obtained from the clusters generated to support a view that particular populations of Acinetobacter may occur in individual activated sludge plants. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY:These data suggest that the current understanding of the systematics of Acinetobacter, based as it is almost exclusively on clinical isolates, may need drastic revision to accommodate environmental strains. They also suggest that a re-examination of the importance and role of Acinetobacter in the activated sludge process may be appropriate.