We have designed and constructed a series of plasmids that contain the major and/or minor Escherichia coli nitroreductase genes, nfsA and nfsB, in different combinations with R plasmid mucA/B genes and the Salmonella typhimurium OAT gene. The plasmid encoded gene products are necessary for both the metabolic activation of a range of structurally diverse nitrosubstituted compounds, and for mutagenic translation bypass. Introduction of these plasmids into S. typhimurium TA1538 and TA1535 has created several new tester strains which exhibit an extremely high mutagenic sensitivity and a broad substrate specificity towards a battery of nitrosubstituted test compounds that included 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide (4-NQO), nitrofurazone (NF), 1-nitropyrene (1-NP), 2-nitronaphthalene (2-NN), 2-nitrofluorene (2-NF), and 1,6-dinitropyrene (1,6-DNP). Our studies show that the nfsA gene encodes a product that is extremely effective in the metabolic activation of a range of structurally diverse nitrosubstituted compounds. Several of the new tester strains are more than two orders of magnitude more sensitive to nitrosubstituted compounds than the Ames tester strains TA100 or TA98. In addition to enhancing mutagenic sensitivity, plasmids encoding both metabolic and mutagenesis functions on a single plasmid provide considerable flexibility for future mechanistic studies or tester strain development, in which it may be necessary to introduce additional plasmids containing different antibiotic resistance markers.