We have developed a versatile, potent technique for imaging cells in culture and in vivo by expressing a metabolically biotinylated cell-surface receptor and visualizing it with labeled streptavidin moieties. The recombinant reporter protein, which incorporates a biotin acceptor peptide (BAP) between an N-terminal signal sequence and a transmembrane domain, (BAP-TM) was efficiently biotinylated by endogenous biotin ligase in mammalian cells with the biotin displayed on the cell surface. Tumors expressing the BAP-TM have high sensitivity for magnetic resonance and fluorescence tomographic imaging in vivo after intravascular injection of streptavidin conjugated to magnetic nanoparticles or fluorochromes, respectively. Moreover, streptavidin-horseradish peroxidase conjugates in conjunction with a peroxidase-sensitive gadolinium agent further increased and prolonged the magnetic resonance signal. This BAP-TM allows noninvasive real-time imaging of any cell type transduced to express this reporter protein in culture or in vivo.