The microbial consumption of nitrous oxide (N2O) has gained great interest since it was revealed that this process could mitigate the greenhouse effect of N2O. The consumption of N2O results from its reduction to dinitrogen gas (N2) as part of the denitrification process. However, there is ongoing debate regarding an alternative pathway, namely reduction of N2O to NH4 +, or assimilatory N2O consumption. To date, this pathway is poorly investigated and lacks unambiguous evidence. Enrichment of denitrifying activated sludge using a mineral nitrogen-free medium rendered a mixed culture capable of anoxic and oxic N2O consumption. Dilution plating, isolation and deoxyribonucleic acid fingerprinting identified a collection of Pseudomonas stutzeri strains as dominant N2O consumers in both anaerobic and aerobic enrichments. A detailed isotope tracing experiment with a Pseudomonas stutzeri isolate showed that consumption of N2O via assimilatory reduction to NH4 + was absent. Conversely, respiratory N2O reduction was directly coupled to N2 fixation. © 2014 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.