A segment of 712 bases coding for part of the human stearoyl-CoA desaturase gene was made by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using primers based on published rat cDNA sequences. The human PCR product was confirmed by DNA sequencing. It was next cloned into a vector from which anti-sense, highly radioactive RNA transcripts were made in vitro using T7 polymerase. The transcripts were used to probe desaturase mRNA in a number of human tumour and control tissues, using a very sensitive solution hybridization/RNase protection assay. Increased desaturase mRNA levels were found in colonic and oesophageal carcinomas and in hepatocellular adenoma; however, no consistent trend was seen in hepatocellular carcinoma. It is suggested that certain classes of tumour may exhibit increased levels of desaturase mRNA. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.