Recent studies have shown that the cyanobacterium Microcoleus chthonoplastes forms a consortium with heterotrophic bacteria present within the cyanobacterial sheath. These studies also show that this consortium is able to grow in the presence of crude oil, degrading aliphatic heterocyclic organo-sulfur compounds as well as alkylated monocyclic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In this work, we characterize this oil-degrading consortium through the analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequences. We performed the study in cultures of Microcoleus grown in mineral medium and in cultures of the cyanobacterium grown in mineral medium supplemented with crude oil. The results indicate that most of the clones found in the polluted culture correspond to well-known oil-degrading and nitrogen-fixing microorganisms, and belong to different phylogenetic groups, such as the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma subclasses of Proteobacteria, and the Cytophaga/Flavobacteria/Bacteroides group. The control is dominated by one predominant organism (88% of the clones) closely affiliated to Pseudoxanthomonas mexicana (similarity of 99.8%). The presence of organisms closely related to well-known nitrogen fixers such as Rhizobium and Agrobacterium suggests that at least some of the cyanobacteria-associated heterotrophic bacteria are responsible for nitrogen fixation and degradation of hydrocarbon compounds inside the polysaccharidic sheath, whereas Microcoleus provides a habitat and a source of oxygen and organic matter. © Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005.