Spores of Bacillus subtilis are approximately ten times less likely to survive UV light irradiation in a vacuum than under atmospheric conditions. Photoproduct formation was studied in spores irradiated under ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) conditions and in spores irradiated at atmospheric pressure. In addition to the "spore photoproduct" 5-thyminyl-5,6-dihydrothymine (TDHT), which is produced in response to irradiation at atmospheric pressure, two additional photoproducts, known as the cis-syn and trans-syn isomers of thymine dimer, are produced on irradiation in vacuo. The spectral efficiencies for photoproduct formation in spores are reduced under vacuum conditions compared with atmospheric conditions by a factor of 2-6, depending on the wavelength. Because formation of TDHT does not increase after irradiation in vacuo, TDHT cannot be responsible for the observed vacuum effect. Vacuum specific photoproducts may cause a synergistic response of spores to the simultaneous action of UV light and UHV. An increased quantum efficiency, destruction of repair systems and formation of irreparable lesions are postulated for the enhanced sensitivity of B. subtilis spores to UV radiation in vacuo.