Bacterial production of visible light is a natural phenomenon occurring in marine (Vibrio and Photobacterium) and terrestrial (Photorhabdus) species. The mechanism underpinning light production in these organisms is similar and involves the oxidation of an aldehyde substrate in a reaction catalysed by the bacterial luciferase enzyme. The genes encoding the luciferase and a fatty acid reductase complex which synthesizes the substrate are contained in a single operon (the lux operon). This provides a useful reporter system as cloning the operon into a recipient host bacterium will generate visible light without the requirement to add exogenous substrate. The light can be detected in vivo in the living animal using a sensitive detection system and is therefore ideally suited to bioluminescence imaging protocols. The system has therefore been widely used to track bacteria during infection or colonisation of the host. As bacteria are currently being examined as bactofection vectors for gene delivery, particularly to tumour tissue, the use of bioluminescence imaging offers a powerful means to investigate vector amplification in situ. The implications of this technology for bacterial localization, tumour targeting and gene transfer (bactofection) studies are discussed.