This study compares the capacity of pure and mixed cultures of mesophilic bacteria for bioleaching of a low grade, pyritic chalcopyrite concentrate. In pure culture form, Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans was found to have a higher bioleaching capacity than Leptospirillum ferrooxidans and Acidithiobacillus thiooxidans with the capability of the latter to bioleach copper being very limited. Mixed cultures, MixA (At. ferrooxidans, L. ferrooxidans and At. thiooxidans) and MixB (L. ferrooxidans and At. thiooxidans) were shown to perform better than the pure cultures with the highest extraction of copper (62.1% Cu) being achieved by MixA. Copper bioleaching performances of the cultures were observed to agree with their respective growth pattern. The results also indicated that the increase in the pulp density (1-5% wt/vol) adversely affected bioleaching process regardless of the pure and mixed cultures used having led to the decrease in the extent of final copper extraction i.e. 50.3% Cu recovery at 1% wt/vol for At. ferrooxidans compared with 38.6% Cu at 5% wt/vol. This study underlines the importance of mixed cultures and, iron and sulphur-oxidising activity of a bacterial culture to efficiently oxidise chalcopyrite. (C) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.