The effects of temperature, growth stage, and inducer (ethanol) concentration on the kinetics and magnitude of the stress response were investigated by using an Escherichia coli strain with the grpE heat shock promoter fused to the Vibrio fischerilux genes. When stressed, the cells responded by changing the level of specific light emission, which was measured both on- and off-line. These measurements were used to characterize and optimize the sensitivity of the construct by determining the conditions at which the culture exhibited maximum specific bioluminescence and minimum response time to ethanol induction in batch cultivation. The results of the batch study were then applied to continuous cultivation, and the effect of dilution rate was determined. These results are of considerable interest in the development of an on-line biological sensor system for the detection and toxicity assessment of chemical pollutants.