Methyl- (MNUA), ethyl- (ENUA), propyl- (PNUA) and butylnitrosourea (BNUA) have been tested for toxicity and mutation in a liquid suspension assay towards Escherichia coli WP2 and some of its repair deficient derivatives. A comparison of survival rates after nitrosourea exposure between WP2 and WP2 uvrA showed no difference between the two strains but a consistent difference in potency between the various nitrosoureas studied. Toxicity increased in the order MNUA less than PNUA less than ENUA less than BNUA. ENUA and PNUA induced a greater number of trp+ revertants in both strains than did MNUA and BNUA, particularly at low survival rates. None of these differences in biological potency could be accounted for by differences in rates of hydrolysis. ENUA, PNUA and BNUA were non-mutagenic towards WP2 lexA, WP2 recA and WP2 uvrA lexA, whereas MNUA did induce mutations. Ethyl methanesulphonate (EMS) was able to mutate WP2 lexA. These results are discussed in the light of current theories regarding the mechanism of action of these compounds.