We describe the construction of a new strain of Escherichia coli designed to bioactivate aromatic amines and to detect their mutagenicity with high sensitivity. Strain DJ4309 bears two plasmids, a pACYC184-derived plasmid which expresses Salmonella typhimurium acetyl CoA:arylamine N-acetyltransferase (NAT) and a pBR322-derived plasmid which expresses human cytochrome P450 1A2 and NADPH-cytochrome P450 reductase. The combined actions of these enzymes convert aromatic amines into reactive, mutagenic N-acetoxy esters. The strain also carries a mutated copy of the lacZ gene (on an F' factor) which reverts to the wild-type gene by a -(GpC) frameshift mutation. Strain DJ4309 expresses high levels of NAT and cytochrome P450 1A2 and is very sensitive to mutagenesis induced by representative aromatic amines. Mutagenicity of 2-aminoanthracene in strain DJ4309 is higher than can be obtained by rat liver homogenate 9000g supernatant (S9) activation in the parent strain lacking the P450 expression vector. Strain DJ4309 provides a useful system for detecting mutagenic aromatic amines and for studying their metabolism by human P450 1A2.