To demonstrate the potential of model microbial assemblages in studies of the biogeochemistry of complex organic molecules, anaerobic microbial populations capable of degrading cholesterol (cholest-5-en-3β-ol) have been enriched from marine sediment sources. The bacterial enrichments actively mineralized the C-4 nucleus of the cholesterol ring system to carbon dioxide when nitrate was present as the terminal electron acceptor. Nitrite was found as an intermediate in the reduction of nitrate, indicating the presence of denitrifying bacteria in the enrichments. When sulfate was supplied as the sole electron acceptor, active dissimilation of cholesterol was not observed. In enrichments containing 5 mM nitrate, 95-98% of the added cholesterol was recovered as carbon dioxide (2-5%), transformation products (20-30%), or as the unmodified sterol (70-80%). Cholesterol transformation products thus far identified include 5α- and 5β-cholestan-3β-ol, cholest-4-en-3-one, 5α-androstan-3, 17-dione and androst-4-en-3, 17 dione.