In anaerobic bacteria, most aromatic growth substrates are channelled into the benzoyl-coenzyme A (CoA) degradation pathway where the aromatic ring is dearomatized and cleaved into an aliphatic thiol ester. The initial step of this pathway is catalysed by dearomatizing benzoyl-CoA reductases yielding the two electron-reduction product, cyclohexa-1,5-diene-1-carbonyl-CoA, to which water is subsequently added by a hydratase. The next two steps have so far only been studied in facultative anaerobes and comprise the oxidation of the 6-hydroxyl-group to 6-oxocyclohex-1-ene-1-carbonyl-CoA (6-OCH-CoA), the addition of water and hydrolytic ring cleavage yielding 3-hydroxypimelyl-CoA. In this work, two benzoate-induced genes from the obligately anaerobic bacteria, Geobacter metallireducens (bamAGeo) and Syntrophus aciditrophicus (bamASyn), were heterologously expressed in Escherichia coli, purified and characterized as 6-OCH-CoA hydrolases. Both enzymes consisted of a single 43 kDa subunit. Some properties of the enzymes are presented and compared with homologues from facultative anaerobes. An alignment of the nucleotide sequences of bamAGeo and bamASyn with the corresponding genes from facultative anaerobes identified highly conserved DNA regions, which enabled the discrimination of genes coding for 6-OCH-CoA hydrolases from those coding for related enzymes. A degenerate oligonucleotide primer pair was deduced from conserved regions and applied in polymerase chain reaction reactions. Using these primers, the expected DNA fragment of the 6-OCH-CoA hydrolase genes was specifically amplified from the DNA of nearly all known facultative and obligate anaerobes that use aromatic growth substrates. The only exception was the aromatic compound-degrading Rhodopseudomonas palustris, which uniquely uses a modified benzoyl-CoA degradation pathway. Using the oligonucleotide primers, the expected DNA fragment was also amplified in a toluene-degrading and a m-xylene-degrading enrichment culture demonstrating its potential use in less defined bacterial communities. The gene probe established in this work provides for the first time a general tool for the detection of a central functionality in aromatic compound-degrading anaerobes.