Five different recombinant bioluminescent strains of Escherichia coli that contain the recA (responsive to DNA damage related stress), fabA (membrane damage), katG (oxidative damage), grpE (protein damage), and lac (constitutive expression, general toxicity) promoters fused to the bacterial lux operon from either Vibrio fischeri or Photorhabdus luminescens were used to describe the different mechanisms of toxicity that several dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans have on bacteria, as well as to determine whether bacteria can sensitively detect the presence of these compounds. 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD) was found to cause only DNA-related damage to bacterial cells. However, the four stress-responsive strains showed positive responses after addition of l,2,3,4-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (1,2,3,4-TCDD), whereas 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-furan (2,3,7,8-TCDF) caused only DNA, oxidative, and protein damage. However, 2,8-dichlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (2,8-DCDD) was not found to induce any stresses tested for in this study, that is, DNA, membrane, oxidative, and protein damage, indicating that each congener might differentially interact with the cell, stimulating differential stress responses within them. By using the constitutive strain, we found that the level of cellular toxicity experienced due to the addition of these four dioxins decreased in the order of 2,3,7,8-TCDD (the most toxic), 1,2,3,4-TCDD, 2,8-DCDD, and 2,3,7,8-TCDF. The 20% effective concentration (EC20), defined in this study the concentration of chemical that causes a 20% decrease in the bioluminescence 60 min after induction, was only 0.1 μg/L for 2,3,7,8-TCDD, a value that is lower than that of the other congeners and demonstrates that 2,3,7,8-TCDD was the most toxic compound tested in this study.