Simple and rapid Bactec methodologies for the determination of neat (unaltered) and heat stable urease activity of mycobacteria are presented. Clinical isolates (63) and stock cultures (32)--consisting of: M. tuberculosis (19), M. bovis (5), M. kansasii (15), M. marinum (4), M. simiae (3), M. scrofulaceum (16), M. gordonae (6), M. szulgai (6), M. flavescens (1), M. gastri (1), M. intracellulare (6), M. fortuitum-chelonei complex (12), and M. smegmatis (1)--were tested for neat urease activity by Bactec radiometry. Mycobacterial isolates (50-100 mg wet weight) were incubated at 35 degrees C for 30 minutes with microCi14C-urea. Urease-positive mycobacteria gave Bactec growth index (GI) values greater than 100 units, whereas urease-negative species gave values less than 10 GI units. Eighty-three isolates possessing neat urease activity were heated at 80 degrees C for 30 minutes followed by incubation at 35 degrees C for 30 minutes with 1 microCi14C-urea. Mycobacterium tuberculosis-bovis complex demonstrated heat-stable urease activity (GI more than 130 units) and could be distinguished from mycobacteria other than tuberculosis (MOTT), which gave GI values equal to or less than 40 units.