A crude-oil-degrading Acinetobacter species, Acinetobacter calcoaceticus RA57, was isolated by standard enrichment culture techniques on the basis of its ability to utilize the oily sludge found in the vicinity of a local gas station. Strain RA57 was found to contain four plasmids: pSR1 (5.1 kilobases [kb]), pSR2 (5.4 kb), pSR3 (10.5 kb), and pSR4 (20 kb). Both supercoiled and open circular forms of the first three plasmids were identified by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis. Restriction endonuclease analysis of pSR4 demonstrated that the plasmid contained a circular map. Colonies were isolated at random after growth in the presence of acridine orange and found to fall into two categories: (i) those which had lost the ability to grow on and disperse crude oil in liquid culture and concurrently were cured of pSR4 and (ii) those which retained the ability to both grow on and disperse crude oil and which contained pSR4. Strains from the first class continued to grow on hydrocarbon vapors, indicating that the defect associated with the curing of pSR4 was related to the physical interaction of the cells with the hydrocarbon substrate, rather than to its metabolism. No differences in either adherence to hydrocarbons or production of extracellular emulsifying activity were found between the two classes of mutants. In growth experiments on crude oil in mixed culture with strains which either contained or lacked pSR4, no sparing of the growth defect was observed. The results are consistent with the possibility that pSR4 encodes a factor(s) which is tightly associated with the cell surface.