The bacterial enzyme cytosine deaminase (CD) catalyzes the conversion of 5-fluorocytosine (5-FC) to the lethal 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and so provides a useful system for selective killing of gene-modified mammalian tumor cells. Cloning of the CD gene from Escherichia coli and expression in human tumor cell lines enabled these cells to convert 3H-labeled 5-FC into 3H-5-FU. Two CD-expressing human tumor cell lines (adenocarcinoma cell line KM12 and glioblastoma cell line T1115) became 200-fold more sensitive to 5-FC than the nonexpressing parental cell lines. At least 90% of the cells are killed within 7 days. CD-expressing cells are able to kill nonexpressing cells when grown in the same culture flask (bystander effect). The CD gene may be used as a suicide system for in situ chemotherapy or as a safety mechanism abrogating the expression of other genes.