The specificity of the growth requirement of Methanobacterium ruminantium strain M1 for a new coenzyme, 2-mercaptoethanesulfonic acid (HS--CoM), was examined. A variety of derivatives, analogs, and potential biosynthetic precursors of coenzyme M were tested; only a restricted range of thioether, thioester, and thiocarbonate derivatives of the cofactor were found to replace the HS--CoM requirement. Bromoethanesulfonic acid (BrCH2CH2SO3-), a halogenated analog of HS--CoM, potently inhibited the growth response. No coenzyme was detectable in a wide range of nonmethanogenic eucaryotic tissues and procaryotic organisms. However, all methanogens available in pure culture exhibited high levels of coenzyme M which ranged from 0.3 to 16 nmol/mg of dry weight.