Like all eucaryotic cells, yeasts are sensitive to trichothecenes, especially T-2 toxin and verrucarin A. Based on this sensitivity, a yeast bioassay was developed to evaluate the toxicity of corn samples. The bioassay was optimized using spiked maize extracts. The toxicity of samples was defined as toxicity equivalent to a certain concentration of T-2 toxin standards. The assay can be performed on crude extracts, but the results are more precise after column clean-up. The test can also be used for the screening of trichothecene toxicity in general. The relative standard deviation (RSD) at 85 % growth inhibition (EC85) was 4.5 % for the T-2 toxin standards (n = 8). This corresponds to an initial T-2 toxin concentration of approximately 58 ppb in the corn sample. Samples containing 188 and 113 ppb T-2 toxin caused a growth inhibition higher than 85 %, whereas samples with toxin concentrations of 56 and 19 ppb had a growth inhibition less than 85 %. Therefore the test can be used for the qualitative evaluation of corn samples up to a level of 58 ppb ± 2.8 ppb. The bioassay is easy to perform with minimum requirements for equipment. Results can be obtained within 24 h and a large number of samples can be analysed daily. The costs are low and the results obtained are repeatable. With some modifications this test can be used for toxicity studies on trichothecene metabolites as well as for extracts with unknown compounds with properties similar to trichothecenes. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.