A gene which confers resistance to the herbicide bialaphos (bar) has been characterized. The bar gene was originally cloned from Streptomyces hygroscopicus, an organism which produces the tripeptide bialaphos as a secondary metabolite. Bialaphos contains phosphinothricin, an analogue of glutamate which is an inhibitor of glutamine synthetase. The bar gene product was purified and shown to be a modifying enzyme which acetylates phosphinothricin or demethylphosphinothricin but not bialaphos or glutamate. The bar gene was subcloned and its nucleotide sequence was determined. Interspecific transfer of this Streptomyces gene into Escherichia coli showed that it could be used as a selectable marker in other bacteria. In the accompanying paper, bar has been used to engineer herbicide-resistant plants.