Abstract The mutagenic and comutagenic effects of bisulfite were investigated. Under moderate exposure conditions (high survival) it was found that bisulfite is not mutagenic to either eukaryotic cells (Chinese hamster V79), or prokaryotic cells ( Escherichia coli). However, bisulfite does act as a comutagen with UV irradiation. Bisulfite approximately doubles the mutation frequency in UV-irradiated Chinese hamster V79 cells, and it causes a greater than 8-fold increase in Trp + revertants in UV-irradiated E. coli. The comutagenic effect occurs whether cells are exposed to bisulfite during or immediately after UV irradiation. Kinetic studies of the comutagenic effect in E. coli shows that it decays in a biphasic manner, with an apparent half-life of 15 min and a persistence of the comutagenic effect for up to 120 min after UV irradiation. Experiments with several strains of E. coli of varying DNA-repair capacities indicate that excision repair is necessary for a comutagenic effect by bisulfite. It is thought that bisulfite acts to inhibit excision repair, perhaps by effects on DNA polymerase I, or DNA ligase.