Traditional techniques for assessment of microbial numbers and activity generally lack the specificity required for risk assessment following environmental release of genetically engineered microbial inocula. Immunological and molecular-based techniques, such as DNA probing and genetic tagging, were initially used to determine the presence or absence of microorganisms in environmental samples. Increasingly they are being developed for quantification of populations of specific organisms, either indigenous or introduced, in the environment. In addition, they are being used to quantify the activity of particular organisms or groups of organisms, greatly extending the range of techniques available to the microbial ecologist. This article reviews the use of traditional techniques for the quantification of microbial population size and activity and the application of molecular techniques, including DNA probing, genetic marking, use of fluorescent probes, and quantitative PCR, in combination with advanced cell detection techniques such as confocal laser scanning microscopy and flow cytometry.