Regulatable transgene systems providing easily controlled, conditional induction or repression of expression are indispensable tools in biomedical and agricultural research and biotechnology. Several such systems have been developed for eukaryotes. Most of these rely on the administration of either exogenous chemicals or heat shock. Despite the general success of many of these systems, the potential for problems, such as toxic, unintended, or pleiotropic effects of the inducing chemical or treatment, can impose limitations on their use. We have developed a promoter system that can be induced, rapidly and reversibly, by short pulses of light. This system is based on the known red light-induced binding of the plant photoreceptor phytochrome to the protein PIF3 and the reversal of this binding by far-red light. We show here that yeast cells expressing two chimeric proteins, a phytochrome-GAL4-DNA-binding-domain fusion and a PIF3-GAL4-activation-domain fusion, are induced by red light to express selectable or "scorable" marker genes containing promoters with a GAL4 DNA-binding site, and that this induction is rapidly abrogated by subsequent far-red light. We further show that the extent of induction can be controlled precisely by titration of the number of photons delivered to the cells by the light pulse. Thus, this system has the potential to provide rapid, noninvasive, switchable control of the expression of a desired gene to a preselected level in any suitable cell by simple exposure to a light signal.