Specific and sensitive detection of indigenous and introduced degradative organisms is an essential prerequisite to their use in remediation of toxic waste and soil systems. Procedures were employed for the use of polymerase chain reaction and gene probes for sensitive detection of the 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic-acid-degrading bacterium, Alcaligenes eutrophus JMP134(pJP4). Two 20-mer oligonucleotide primers were identified for amplification of a 205-bp region of the tfdB gene of pJP4, and optimum conditions for amplification were determined. Both the polymerase chain reaction amplification process and hybridization with the 5'-end-labelled probe were found to be specific to organisms containing plasmid pJP4 or its derivative pRO103. Detection limits were determined for the template supplied either as bacterial cells or purified plasmid DNA. The detection was sensitive up to an initial inoculum of 3,000 CFU or 156 pg of total plasmid DNA. However, when the amplified product was transferred to a nylon membrane and hybridized with the 5'-end-labelled probe, the detection sensitivity increased to 300 CFU or 15.6 pg of plasmid DNA. This sensitive detection method is more specific than use of traditional indicator media (M. A. Loos, Can. J. Microbiol. 21:104-107, 1975). An oligonucleotide (20 bases) complementary to a sequence internal to the 205-bp region was synthesized and utilized as a probe to confirm the specificity of the detection.