The lipopeptide surfactin from Bacillus subtilis strains exhibits strong surface and biological activity, the latter probably because of its interaction with biological membranes. We have investigated the interaction of aqueous solutions of surfactin with supported bilayers of diphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) on silica using neutron reflectometry. We have also used small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) to study the solubilized aggregates formed as a result of the destruction of the supported membrane by surfactin. Although surfactin on its own does not attach to the silica supporting surface, it is taken up from solution by the membrane, confirming that there is an attractive interaction between DPPC and surfactin. The surfactin concentration in the layer can reach up to about 20 mol relative to DPPC. The membrane is stable provided that the surfactin concentration is below its critical micelle concentration (cmc, 5 x 10(-5) M). Above the cmc, however, the membrane is solubilized and removed from the surface, though not always completely, over a period of hours. There are signs that there is an induction period while the surfactin concentration builds up in the membrane. This would be consistent with the need for a threshold concentration of surfactin in the bilayer. The presence of a surfactin correlation peak in the SANS showed that in the bulk solution, at the same concentrations as used for the deposition, surfactin forms aggregates that must be localized in the DPPC multilamellar vesicles at a separation of about 160 A. The structure could be fitted with an approximate model where the surfactin has an aggregation number of 50 +/- 10 with a radius of about 27 A. Given the very small water thicknesses in the DPPC lamellar aggregates, the surfactin must exist as aggregates in the phospholipid bilayer, and these structures are responsible for solubilizing the DPPC.