A series of enrichments with different nitriles as sole source of nitrogen was performed in order to obtain a relationship between the selective nitrogen source and (i) the enzyme systems that are synthesized by the isolates and (ii) the enzyme specificities for the utilization of the nitriles. Bacteria were enriched with 2-phenylpropionitrile, 2-(2-methoxyphenyl)propionitrile, 2-phenylbutyronitrile, ibuprofen nitrile, naproxen nitrile, ketoprofen nitrile, ketoprofen amide, benzonitrile, or naphthalenecarbonitrile as sole nitrogen source and succinate as sole source of carbon and energy. 2-Phenylpropionitrile as nitrogen source resulted predominantly in the enrichment of gram-negative bacteria, which harboured nitrilase and in some cases also amidase activity. In contrast, with the other nitriles used, a substantial majority of gram-positive strains, mainly of the genus Rhodococcus, were isolated. These strains contained predominantly a nitrile hydratase/amidase system. The nitrilases and nitrile hydratases showed R or S selectivity with generally poor optical yields. In contrast, the amidases were almost exclusively S-selective, often forming the optically pure acids with an enantiomeric excess above 99%. The conversion of different nitriles by the isolates was compared. The nitrile-hydrolysing systems of the new isolates usually showed high activity against those nitriles that were used for the enrichment of the bacteria.