There is considerable evidence correlating the production of increased proportions of membrane unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs) with bacterial growth at low temperatures or high pressures. In order to assess the importance of UFAs to microbial growth under these conditions, the effects of conditions altering UFA levels in the psychrotolerant piezophilic deep-sea bacterium Photobacterium profundum SS9 were investigated. The fatty acids produced by P. profundum SS9 grown at various temperatures and pressures were characterized, and differences in fatty acid composition as a function of phase growth, and between inner and outer membranes, were noted. P. profundum SS9 was found to exhibit enhanced proportions of both monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fatty acids when grown at a decreased temperature or elevated pressure. Treatment of cells with cerulenin inhibited MUFA but not PUFA synthesis and led to a decreased growth rate and yield at low temperature and high pressure. In addition, oleic acid-auxotrophic mutants were isolated. One of these mutants, strain EA3, was deficient in the production of MUFAs and was both low-temperature sensitive and high-pressure sensitive in the absence of exogenous 18:1 fatty acid. Another mutant, strain EA2, produced little MUFA but elevated levels of the PUFA species eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3). This mutant grew slowly but was not low-temperature sensitive or high-pressure sensitive. Finally, reverse genetics was employed to construct a mutant unable to produce EPA. This mutant, strain EA10, was also not low-temperature sensitive or high-pressure sensitive. The significance of these results to the understanding of the role of UFAs in growth under low-temperature or high-pressure conditions is discussed.