The plasma of patients with overt variegate porphyria contains porphyrin with a fluorescence emission maximum at about 626 nm, which is diagnostic for the condition. We have evaluated qualitative fluorescence emission scanning of saline-diluted plasma as a method for the identification of asymptomatic carriers of the gene for variegate porphyria. Plasma from 36 unrelated patients with variegate porphyria, 136 of their asymptomatic first- and second-degree relatives aged 15 years or over, and 322 normal subjects was scanned. An emission maximum between 621 and 627 nm was observed in the 36 patients with variegate porphyria and 54 of their relatives, but not in any normal subject, nor in 56 patients with other types of porphyria. For the detection of asymptomatic adult carriers of the gene for variegate porphyria, fluorescence emission scanning of plasma appears to be 100% specific, with a sensitivity of 86% (95% confidence interval 71-98%). In contrast, the sensitivity of faecal porphyrin analysis as a test for adult gene carriers was 36%. These results suggest that fluorescence emission scanning of plasma should replace faecal porphyrin analysis as the test of first choice for this purpose.