Cultures of Clostridium formicoaceticum and C. thermoaceticum growing on fructose and glucose, respectively, were shown to rapidly oxidize CO to CO(2). Rates up to 0.4 mumol min(-1) mg of wet cells(-1) were observed. Carbon monoxide oxidation by cell suspensions was found (i) to be dependent on pyruvate, (ii) to be inhibited by alkyl halides and arsenate, and (iii) to stimulate CO(2) reduction to acetate. Cell extracts catalyzed the oxidation of carbon monoxide with methyl viologen at specific rates up to 10 mumol min(-1) mg of protein(-1) (35 degrees C, pH 7.2). Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate and ferredoxin from C. pasteurianum were ineffective as electron acceptors. The catalytic mechanism of carbon monoxide oxidation was "ping-pong," indicating that the enzyme catalyzing carbon monoxide oxidation can be present in an oxidized and a reduced form. The oxidized form was shown to react reversibly with cyanide, and the reduced form was shown to react reversibly with alkyl halides: cyanide inactivated the enzyme only in the absence of carbon monoxide, and alkyl halides inactivated it only in the presence of carbon monoxide. Extracts inactivated by alkyl halides were reactivated by photolysis. The findings are interpreted to indicate that carbon monoxide oxidation in the two bacteria is catalyzed by a corrinoid enzyme and that in vivo the reaction is coupled with the reduction of CO(2) to acetate. Cultures of C. acidi-urici and C. cylindrosporum growing on hypoxanthine were found not to oxidize CO, indicating that clostridia mediating a corrinoid-independent total synthesis of acetate from CO(2) do not possess a CO-oxidizing system.