Bioluminescent strains of the Arabidopsis thaliana pathogens Pseudomonas syringae pathovar (pv.) tomato and pv. maculicola were made by insertion of the luxCDABE operon from Photorhabdus luminescens into the P. syringae chromosome under the control of a constitutive promoter. Stable integration of luxCDABE did not affect bacterial fitness, growth in planta or disease outcome. Luminescence accurately and reliably reported bacterial growth in infected Arabidopsis leaves both with a fixed inoculum followed over time and with varying inocula assayed at a single time point. Furthermore, the bioluminescence assay could detect a small (1.3-fold) difference in bacterial growth between different plant genotypes with a precision comparable to that of the standard plate assay. Luminescence of luxCDABE-tagged P. syringae allows rapid and convenient quantification of bacterial growth without the tissue extraction, serial dilution, plating and manual scoring involved in standard assays of bacterial growth by colony formation in plate culture of samples from infected tissue. The utility of the bioluminescence assay was illustrated by surveying the 500-fold variation in growth of the universally virulent P. syringae pv. maculicola ES4326 among more than 100 Arabidopsis ecotypes and identification of two quantitative trait loci accounting for 48% and 16%, respectively, of the variance of basal resistance to P. syringae pv. tomato DC3000 in the Col-0 x Fl-1 F(2) population. Luminescence assay of bacteria chromosomally tagged with luxCDABE should greatly facilitate the genetic dissection of quantitative differences in gene-for-gene, basal and acquired disease resistance and other aspects of plant interactions with bacterial pathogens requiring high-throughput assays or large-scale quantitative screens.