Carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy has been applied to the direct observation of acetate and pyruvate metabolism in suspension cultures of Zea mays (var Black Mexican Sweet). Growth of the corn cells in the presence of 2 millimolar [2-13C]acetate resulted in a rapid uptake of the substrate from the medium and initial labeling (0-4 hours) of primarily the intracellular glutamate and malate pools. Further metabolism of these intermediates resulted in labeling of glutamine, aspartate, and alanine. With [1-13C]acetate as the substrate very little incorporation into intermediary metabolites was observed in the 13C NMR spectra due to loss of the label as 13CO2. Uptake of [3-13C]pyruvate by the cells was considerably slower than with [2-13C]acetate; however, the labelling patterns were similar with the exception of increased [3-13C] alanine generation with pyruvate as the substrate. Growth of the cells for up to 96 hours with 2 millimolar [3-13C]pyruvate ultimately resulted in labeling of valine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, and the polyamine putrescine.