Molecular beacons (MBs) are hairpin-like fluorescent DNA probes that have single-mismatch detection capability. Although they are extremely useful for many solution-based nucleic acid detections, MBs are expensive probes for applications that require the use of a large number of different DNA probes due to the high cost and tedious procedures associated with probe synthesis and purification. In addition, since both ends of MB probes are covalently modified with chromophores, they do not offer the flexibility for fluorophore change and the capability for surface immobilization through free DNA ends. In this report, we describe an alternative form of MB, denoted tripartite molecular beacon (TMB), that may help overcome these problems. A TMB uses an unmodified oligodeoxyribonucleotide that forms a MB-like structure with two universal single-stranded arms to bring on a universal pair of oligodeoxyribonucleotides modified separately with a fluorophore and a quencher. We found that TMBs are as effective as standard MBs in signaling the presence of matching nucleic acid targets and in precisely discriminating targets that differ by a single nucleotide. TMBs have the necessary flexibility that may make MBs more affordable for various nucleic acid detection applications.