A pathogenic strain of Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria, causal agent of bacterial spot of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.), was genetically engineered to bioluminesce. In planta growth of the bioluminescent strain was similar to that of its parental strain. Movement and growth of the bioluminescent strain in susceptible tomato seedlings after wound inoculation was followed over time with a liquid-N-cooled, charge-coupled device camera. Highly significant differences in bioluminescent bacterial growth were observed in the four tomato cultivars used. Systemic bacterial movement was most pronounced in `Sunny', which showed population development not only at the inoculation sites but also on several sites in the leaves and at the leaf margins. Bacterial bioluminescence levels in `Campbell 28' remained significantly lower than those observed in `Walter' and `Sunny'. The technique offers unique possibilities for studying host-pathogen interactions and bacterial pathogenesis.