The 5'----3' exonuclease activity of the thermostable enzyme Thermus aquaticus DNA polymerase may be employed in a polymerase chain reaction product detection system to generate a specific detectable signal concomitantly with amplification. An oligonucleotide probe, nonextendable at the 3' end, labeled at the 5' end, and designed to hybridize within the target sequence, is introduced into the polymerase chain reaction assay. Annealing of probe to one of the polymerase chain reaction product strands during the course of amplification generates a substrate suitable for exonuclease activity. During amplification, the 5'----3' exonuclease activity of T. aquaticus DNA polymerase degrades the probe into smaller fragments that can be differentiated from undegraded probe. The assay is sensitive and specific and is a significant improvement over more cumbersome detection methods.