This is the first report of fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) on plant polytene chromosomes. Different protease pretreatments have been tested to improve fluorescence in situ hybridization FISH on polytene chromosomes of a plant, Phaseolus coccineus, with the aim to enable the detection of low-copy genes. The structural preservation of the chromosomes and the distinctness of the FISH signals were comparatively analysed with a probe for the ribosomal RNA genes after digestion with pepsin and trypsin. The pepsin pretreatment resulted in a general loosening of chromatin with good conservation of chromosome morphology and an increased number and density of signal points. The six nucleolus organizers exhibited significant differences in condensation. The pretreatment with pepsin enabled the detection of the low-copy genes encoding the seed storage protein phaseolin.