Seventeen out of 21 horses had pulmonary microbial organisms which reached considerable numbers in seven cases. Elastase-producing microorganisms from the environment (Streptomyces species and to a lesser extent Bacillus species) constituted 22 per cent to 99 per cent (mean 79 per cent) of the total growth. There was a considerable number of microorganisms with in vitro-produced elastases which were not or only slightly affected by horse serum. There was no correlation between numbers of organisms and pulmonary histopathological findings thus the significance of these microorganisms in the pathogenesis of alveolar emphysema is unknown. The growth of a strain of Streptomyces collinus/diastatochromogus isolated from the lungs was suppressed by fresh horse serum but not by decomplemented horse serum. Complement activation in response to this organism could contribute to airway inflammation through the production of mediators.