Wax esters, ester-linked fatty acids and long-chain alcohols, are important energy storage compounds in select bacteria. The synthesis of wax esters from fatty acids is proposed to require the action of a four-enzyme pathway. An essential step in the pathway is the reduction of a fatty aldehyde to the corresponding fatty alcohol, although the enzyme responsible for catalyzing this reaction has yet to be identified in bacteria. We report here the purification and characterization of an enzyme from the wax ester-accumulating bacterium Marinobacter aquaeolei VT8, which is a proposed fatty aldehyde reductase in this pathway. The enzyme, a 57-kDa monomer, was expressed in Escherichia coli as a fusion protein with the maltose binding protein on the N terminus and was purified to near homogeneity by using amylose affinity chromatography. The purified enzyme was found to reduce a number of long-chain aldehydes to the corresponding alcohols coupled to the oxidation of NADPH. The highest specific activity was observed for the reduction of decanal (85 nmol decanal reduced/min/mg). Short-chain and aromatic aldehydes were not substrates. The enzyme showed no detectable catalysis of the reverse reaction, the oxidation of decanol by NADP +. The mechanism of the enzyme was probed with several site-specific chemical probes. The possible uses of this enzyme in the production of wax esters are discussed.