The prevalence of four alkane monooxygenase genotypes (Pseudomonas putida GPo1, Pp alkB; Rhodococcus sp. strain Q15, Rh alkB1 and Rh alkB2; and Acinetobacter sp. strain ADP-1, Ac alkM) in hydrocarbon-contaminated and pristine soils from the Arctic and Antarctica were determined by both culture-independent (PCR hybridization analyses) and culture-dependent (colony hybridization analyses) molecular methods, using oligonucleotide primers and DNA probes specific for each of the alk genotypes. PCR hybridization of total soil community DNA detected the rhodococcal alkB genotypes in most of the contaminated (Rh alkB1, 18/20 soils; Rh alkB2, 13/20) and many pristine soils (Rh alkB1, 9/10 soils; Rh alkB2, 7/10), while Pp alkB was generally detected in the contaminated soils (15/20) but less often in pristine soils (5/10). Ac alkM was rarely detected in the soils (1/30). The colony hybridization technique was used to determine the prevalence of each of the alk genes and determine their relative abundance in culturable cold-adapted (5degreeC) and mesophilic populations (37degreeC) from eight of the polar soils. The cold-adapted populations, in general, possessed relatively higher percentages of the Rh alkB genotypes (Rh alkB1, 1.9% (0.55); Rh alkB2, 2.47% (0.89)), followed by the Pp alkB (1.13% (0.50)), and then the Ac alkM (0.53% (0.36)). The Rh alkB1 genotype was clearly more prevalent in culturable cold-adapted bacteria (1.9% (0.55)) than in culturable mesophiles (0.41 (0.55)), suggesting that cold-adapted bacteria are the predominant organisms possessing this genotype. Overall, these results indicated that (i) Acinetobacter spp. are not predominant members of polar alkane degradative microbial communities, (ii) Pseudomonas spp. may become enriched in polar soils following contamination events, and (iii) Rhodococcus spp. may be the predominant alkane-degradative bacteria in both pristine and contaminated polar soils.on. (c) Biosciences Information Services.