Anaerobic syntrophic associations of fermentative bacteria and methanogenic archaea operate at the thermodynamic limits of life. The interspecies transfer of electrons from formate or hydrogen as a substrate for the methanogens is key. Contrary requirements of syntrophs and methanogens for growth-sustaining product and substrate concentrations keep the formate and hydrogen concentrations low and within a narrow range. Since formate is a direct substrate for methanogens, a niche for microorganisms that grow by the conversion of formate to hydrogen plus bicarbonate - or vice versa - may seem unlikely. Here we report experimental evidence for growth on formate by syntrophic communities of (i) Moorella sp. strain AMP in coculture with a thermophilic hydrogen-consuming Methanothermobacter species and of (ii) Desulfovibrio sp. strain G11 in coculture with a mesophilic hydrogen consumer, Methanobrevibacter arboriphilus AZ. In pure culture, neither Moorella sp. strain AMP, nor Desulfovibrio sp. strain G11, nor the methanogens grow on formate alone. These results imply the existence of a previously unrecognized microbial niche in anoxic environments.