AIMS: Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) was used to analyse a selection of Acinetobacter isolates in order to determine if this approach could discriminate readily between the known genomic species of this genus and environmental isolates from activated sludge. METHODS AND RESULTS: FT-IR spectroscopy is a rapid whole-organism fingerprinting method, typically taking only 10 s per sample, and generates 'holistic' biochemical profiles (or 'fingerprints') from biological materials. The cluster analysis produced by FT-IR was compared with previous polyphasic taxonomic studies on these isolates and with 16S-23S rDNA intergenic spacer region (ISR) fingerprinting presented in this paper. FT-IR and 16S-23S rDNA ISR analyses together indicate that some of the Acinetobacter genomic species are particularly heterogeneous and poorly defined, making characterization of the unknown environmental isolates with the genomic species difficult. CONCLUSIONS: Whilst the characterization of the isolates from activated sludge revealed by FT-IR and 16S-23S rDNA ISR were not directly comparable, the dendrogram produced from FT-IR data did correlate well with the outcomes of the other polyphasic taxonomic work. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY: We believe it would be advantageous to pursue this approach further and establish a comprehensive database of taxonomically well-defined Acinetobacter species to aid the identification of unknown strains. In this instance, FT-IR may provide the rapid identification method eagerly sought for the routine identification of Acinetobacter isolates from a wide range of environmental sources.