Depending on the analytical method employed estimates of background levels of base oxidation in human DNA vary over orders of magnitude. It is now realised that oxidation of guanine in vitro can result in serious overestimation of the nucleoside by HPLC (with electrochemical detection). We have modified procedures of isolation, hydrolysis and storage of DNA with the aim of eliminating this artefact. Vacuum- or freeze-drying, and dialysis, tend to encourage oxidation. We compare results obtained with HPLC and with the comet assay, which employs lesion-specific enzymes to introduce breaks in DNA at sites of oxidative damage. Although estimates of background levels of DNA oxidation using the comet assay are several-fold lower than the estimates by HPLC, both approaches have been used successfully to detect differences between human subjects or population groups that seem to relate to human disease and nutritional factors.