A polymerase chain reaction for the specific detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been developed and evaluated for clinical applicability. Primers were designed to amplify a 240 base pair region in the MPB 64 protein coding gene (nts 460-700). From among 15 different DNA templates tested (including 10 species of mycobacteria) PCR amplified the DNA from M. tuberculosis complex only, demonstrating its exquisite specificity. Sensitivity studies using serial ten-fold dilutions of M. tuberculosis bacilli determined the limit of detectability to be 10 organisms. A total of 143 clinical specimens were analysed. This consisted of 26 known non-tuberculous specimens (control group) and 117 specimens received at the Tuberculosis Diagnostic Service of AIIMS (test group). None of the specimens in the control group was positive by PCR. Out of 117 specimens in the test group, 19 were culture positive for mycobacteria and 17 of these isolates were identified as M. tuberculosis. All the specimens from which M. tuberculosis was grown were also PCR positive. The remaining two isolates were identified as mycobacteria other than M. tuberculosis and these two specimens were PCR negative. An additional 14 culture negative specimens were PCR positive yielding an overall M. tuberculosis positivity rate of 26.5% (31/117) compared to 14.5% (17/117) by culture. The superior sensitivity of PCR over culture was more evident in non-pulmonary cases where PCR picked up 10 cases in addition to three culture positives out of 69 specimens. On the other hand, out of 48 pulmonary specimens only four cases in addition to 14 culture positives were picked up by PCR.