A novel compound designated zafrin [4β-methyl-5, 6, 7, 8 tetrahydro-1 (4β-H)-phenanthrenone] was isolated from a crude extract of a marine bacterium identified as Pseudomonas stutzeri. Zafrin showed strong antibacterial activity against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. The compound was purified and its structure was elucidated by spectroscopic methods including 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), 13C-NMR, 1D-NMR and 2D-NMR spectroscopy. It could be demonstrated that a purified solution of zafrin was active against several human pathogens, including Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella typhi. By contrast, zafrin did not inhibit the growth of eukaryotic organisms Candida albicans and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. The minimal inhibitory concentration for Gram-positive bacteria ranged from 50 to 75 μg mL−1 and varied between 75 and 125 μg mL−1 for Gram-negative bacteria. Zafrin lysed Bacillus subtilis cells grown in an osmotically protected medium, suggesting that it does not act upon the cell wall. Further investigation using B. subtilis indicated that the compound is bactericidal and is likely to target the cell membrane.