Accumulation of compatible solutes, by uptake or de novo synthesis, enables bacteria to reduce the difference between osmotic potentials of the cell cytoplasm and the extracellular environment. To examine this process in the halophilic and halotolerant methanogenic archaebacteria, 14 strains were tested for the accumulation of compatible solutes in response to growth in various extracellular concentrations of NaCl. In external NaCl concentrations of 0.7 to 3.4 M, the halophilic methanogens accumulated K+ ion and low-molecular-weight organic compounds. beta-Glutamate was detected in two halotolerant strains that grew below 1.5 M NaCl. Two unusual beta-amino acids, N epsilon-acetyl-beta-lysine and beta-glutamine (3-aminoglutaramic acid), as well as L-alpha-glutamate were compatible solutes among all of these strains. De novo synthesis of glycine betaine was also detected in several strains of moderately and extremely halophilic methanogens. The zwitterionic compounds (beta-glutamine, N epsilon-acetyl-beta-lysine, and glycine betaine) and potassium were the predominant compatible solutes among the moderately and extremely halophilic methanogens. This is the first report of beta-glutamine as a compatible solute and de novo biosynthesis of glycine betaine in the methanogenic archaebacteria.