Phosphorylated H2AX (gamma-H2AX) is essential to the efficient recognition and (or) repair of DNA double strand breaks (DSBs), and many molecules, often thousands, of H2AX become rapidly phosphorylated at the site of each nascent DSB. An antibody to gamma-H2AX reveals that this highly amplified process generates nuclear foci. The phosphorylation site is a serine four residues from the C-terminus which has been evolutionarily conserved in organisms from giardia intestinalis to humans. Mice and yeast lacking the conserved serine residue demonstrate a variety of defects in DNA DSB processing. H2AX Delta/Delta mice are smaller, sensitive to ionizing radiation, defective in class switch recombination and spermatogenesis while cells from the mice demonstrate substantially increased numbers of genomic defects. gamma-H2AX foci formation is a sensitive biological dosimeter and presents new and exciting opportunities to understand important biological processes, human diseases, and individual variations in radiation sensitivity. These potentialities demonstrate the importance of understanding the parameters and functions of gamma-H2AX formation.