The potential for the biological conversion of long-chain saturated hydrocarbons to methane under anaerobic conditions has been demonstrated by using an enrichment culture of bacteria to degrade pure-phase hexadecane. The formation of methane in hydrocarbon-rich subsurface zones could be explained if a similar conversion of long-chain alkanes to methane were to take place in subsurface environments. If this process could be stimulated in the subsurface, it could be used to enhance hydrocarbon recovery from petroleum reserves. Parkes, however, questions the environmental significance of the enrichment-culture results1 on the grounds that alkane conversion to methane is very slow and because sulphate-reducing and methanogenic bacteria might both be necessary for even this slow process to occur, restricting the conversion to specialized, unusual zones in sediments. Here we show that, on the contrary, subsurface bacteria can adapt to convert hexadecane to methane rapidly and in the absence of sulphate-reducing bacteria.