Erwinia spp. are gram-negative facultative anaerobes within the family Enterobacteriacae which possess several desirable traits for the conversion of pentose sugars to ethanol, such as the ability to ferment a broad range of carbohydrates and the ease with which they can be genetically modified. Twenty-eight strains of Erwinia carotovora and E. chrysanthemi were screened for the ability to ferment d-xylose to ethanol. E. chrysanthemi B374 was chosen for further study on the basis of its superior (4%) ethanol tolerance. We have characterized the fermentation of d-xylose and l-arabinose by the wild type and mutants which bear plasmids containing the pyruvate decarboxylase gene from Zymomonas mobilis. Expression of the gene markedly increased the yields of ethanol (from 0.7 up to 1.45 mol/mol of xylose) and decreased the yields of formate, acetate, and lactate. However, the cells with pyruvate decarboxylase grew only one-fourth as fast as the wild type and tolerated only 2% ethanol. Alcohol tolerance was stimulated by the addition of yeast extract to the growth medium. Xylose catabolism was characterized by a high saturation constant K(s) (4.5 mM).