Transient expression of GUS in rice (Oryza sativa L.) mediated by Agrobacterium tumefaciens was characterized using binary vectors containing gusA genes that express minimal (pKIWI105 and pCNL1) or no (p35S-GUS-INT and pCNL56) GUS activity in bacteria. Four-day old seedlings obtained from seeds or immature embryos of rice were cut into shoot, root, and seed remnants and inoculated with various strains of A. tumefaciens. Transient GUS expression events were quantitated histochemically by determining the frequency of explants exhibiting blue spots indicative of GUS at four to six days after cocultivation with A. tumefaciens. A. tumefaciens strains that did not contain the gusA gene (At643) or a Ti-plasmid (At563 and At657) did not elicit any blue staining characteristic of GUS activity. Several parameters were important in obtaining efficient transient expression of GUS in rice mediated by A. tumefaciens. The growth regulator 2,4-D inhibited GUS expression if present during the seed germination period, but the presence of 6 mg/l 2,4-D during cocultivation of the explants with A. tumefaciens slightly enhanced GUS expression efficiency. All 21 rice cultivars tested expressed GUS after co-cultivation with A. tumefaciens. The GUS expression frequency was highest amongst the indica cultivars. The frequencies of GUS expression in japonica cultivars and in Oryza glaberrima cultivars (grown primarily in Africa) were generally one-half to one-third the level found for indica varieties. Leaf explants were more susceptible to A. tumefaciens-facilitated GUS expression than were roots or seed remnants. The vir genes of an agropine-type Ti-plasmid of A. tumefaciens were most effective in directing transient GUS expression in rice, whereas those of a nopaline-type and an octopine-type plasmid were less effective. We have also found that the frequency of transient expression of GUS was higher with pBIN19 as the precursor cloning vector than with pEND4K as the precursor cloning vector. Reasons for differences in effectiveness of these binary vectors are discussed. Using the conditions described here, A. tumefaciens-mediated frequencies of transient GUS expression in four-day old shoots of several rice cultivars were routinely in excess of 50%.