A microbial basis for bioreductive generation of phosphine is proposed, which could account at least in part for the presence of this toxic gas in natural anaerobic environments and in sewage and landfill gases. Phosphine generation under anaerobic growth conditions was dependent upon both the culture inoculum source (animal faeces) and enrichment culture conditions. Phosphine was detected in headspace gases from mixed cultures under conditions promoting fermentative growth of mixed acid and butyric acid bacteria, either in the presence or absence of methane generation. Monoseptic cultures of certain mixed acid fermentors (Escherichia coli, Salmonella gallinarum, and Salmonella arizonae) and solvent fermentors (Clostridium sporogenes, Clostridium acetobutyricum and Clostridium cochliarium) also generated phosphine. Such fermentative bacteria participate in the multi-stage process of methanogenesis in nature. Generation of phosphine by these bacteria, rather than by methanoarchaea themselves, could explain the apparent correlation between methanogenesis and the formation of phosphine in nature.