The 35S promoter of cauliflower mosaic virus and promoters from the nopaline synthase, 1' and 2' genes of Agrobacterium tumefaciens T-DNA were fused to the bacterial octopine synthase and chitinase gene coding regions. These chimaeric gene constructions were introduced into tobacco, sugarbeet and oilseed rape cells and their relative levels of expression measured by primer extension analysis of RNA isolated from pooled populations of stably transformed calli. In tobacco callus, the 35S promoter provided the highest levels of gene expression, followed by the 2', 1' and nopaline synthase promoters. While the ranking of these promoters is conserved in sugarbeet and oilseed rape callus, there is between-species variation in the relative strength of these promoters. In all three species, transcription initiation is conserved for each of the chimaeric gene constructions. Additional constructions in which the 5' untranslated leader of a petunia chlorophyll a/b binding protein gene is substituted for DNA downstream of the 35S transcription start site demonstrates that heterologous 5' leader sequences can be utilized to augment steady-state levels of reporter gene expression.