The luciferase gene from the firefly, Photinus pyralis, was used as a reporter of gene expression by light production in transfected plant cells and transgenic plants. A complementary DNA clone of the firefly luciferase gene under the control of a plant virus promoter (cauliflower mosaic virus 35S RNA promoter) was introduced into plant protoplast cells (Daucus carota) by electroporation and into plants (Nicotiana tabacum) by use of the Agrobacterium tumefaciens tumor-inducing plasmid. Extracts from electroporated cells (24 hours after the introduction of DNA) and from transgenic plants produce light when mixed with the substrates luciferin and adenosine triphosphate. Light produced by the action of luciferase was also detected in undisrupted leaves or cells in culture from transgenic plants incubated in luciferin and in whole transgenic plants ``watered'' with luciferin. Although light was detected in most organs in intact, transgenic plants (leaves, stems, and roots), the pattern of luminescence appeared to reflect both the organ-specific distribution of luciferase and the pathway for uptake of luciferin through the vasculature of the plant.