The use of green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a reporter for protein localization in Escherichia coli was explored by creating gene fusions between malE (encoding maltose-binding protein [MBP]) and a variant of gfp optimized for fluorescence in bacteria (GFPuv). These constructs encode hybrid proteins composed of GFP fused to the carboxy-terminal end of MBP. Fluorescence was not detected when the hybrid protein was synthesized with the MBP signal sequence. In contrast, when the MBP signal sequence was deleted, fluorescence was observed. Cell fractionation studies showed that the fluorescent MBP-GFP hybrid protein was localized in the cytoplasm, whereas the nonfluorescent version was localized to the periplasmic space. Smaller MBP-GFP hybrid proteins, however, exhibited abnormal fractionation. Expression of the gene fusions in different sec mutants, as well as signal sequence processing assays, confirmed that the periplasmically localized hybrid proteins were exported by the sec-dependent pathway. The distinction between fluorescent and nonfluorescent colonies was exploited as a scorable phenotype to isolate malE signal sequence mutations. While expression of hybrid proteins comprised of full-length MBP did not result in overproduction lethality characteristic of some exported β-galactosidase hybrid proteins, synthesis of shorter, exported hybrid proteins was toxic to the cells. Purification of MBP-GFP hybrid protein from the different cellular compartments indicated that GFP is improperly folded when localized outside of the cytoplasm. These results suggest that GFP could serve as a useful reporter for genetic analysis of bacterial protein export and of protein folding.