When Escherichia coli cells reach stationary phase of growth, specific gene products are synthesized that protect cells while dormant. "Aged" cells may remain viable in cultures for years. For example, agar cultures stored for 38 years still had more than 10(5) viable cells/ml. However, when specific mutants were cultured, the population of these mutants dropped sharply after 4-10 days. This defect is termed "Stationary-Phase-Death". Each mutant strain was hypersensitive to near-ultraviolet radiation and other oxidative agents. Bovine catalase rescued many of the mutants from death in dormancy, suggesting that specific gene products protect "aged" cells against oxidative damage.