Abundant volatile lipids of Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum and Methanosarcina barkeri include isoprenoid hydrocarbons (??? C30), and C15, C20 and C25 isoprenoid alcohols. M. barkeri contains 2,6,10,15,19-pentamethyleicosane, whose relative stereochemistry is the same as found in marine sediments, indicating that it is a marker of methanogenic activity. The C20, C30 and C25 alkenes in M. thermoautotrophicum also have a preferred sterochemistry; the latter have the 2,6,10,14,18-pentamethyleicosanyl skeleton, suggesting that the alkane in marine sediments may derive from methanogens. The stereochemistry of squalane in a marine sediment is also compatible with an origin in methanogens; in contrast, the stereochemistry of pristane in M. thermoautotrophicum indicates a fossil fuel contaminant origin, suggesting that this and certain other alkanes reported in archaebacteria might also be of contaminant origin. There is, therefore, little evidence at present that the pristane in immature marine sediments originates in methanogens. The C15 and C20 saturated alcohols in M. thermoautotrophicum have mainly the all-R configuration. If this is generally true for methanogens, the C20 alcohol in the Messel shale may originate mainly from methanogens, whereas that in the Green River shale may originate mainly from photosynthetic organisms. ?? 1984.