Aberrant crypts are recognized in methylene blue-stained, unsectioned, colonic mucosa by their increased size, elliptical lumenal opening, thicker epithelial layer, and increased pericryptal region. Aberrant crypt foci in rodents are observed as early as 2 weeks and for at least 9 months after a single dose of carcinogen, have a distribution that parallels that of tumors, and have an increased number of aberrant crypts per focus with time after the carcinogen dose. The ability to quantify these lesions in the entire colon of rodents in less than an hour suggests that aberrant crypts may provide a highly efficient in vivo bioassay for colon carcinogens. Since aberrant crypt foci appear to be the earliest identifiable putative precursors of colon cancer, they represent lesions that can be characterized further for the earliest genetic and biochemical alterations. In F344 rats, we have demonstrated that aberrant crypts have multiple histochemically-detectable enzyme alterations. Using similar techniques, we were the first to demonstrate aberrant crypts in unsectioned human mucosa. After embedding and sectioning, these microscopic aberrant crypts resemble rare lesions described earlier in the literature after extensive serial sectioning. In rats and humans, aberrant crypts may be histologically normal or display varying degrees of dysplasia and histochemically-detectable altered enzyme activities. These putative, preneoplastic lesions should reveal early changes that precede colon cancer and ways to alter their progression.