A.S. KAPRELYANTS AND D.B. KELL. 1992. The fluorescent dye rhodamine 123 (Rh 123) is concentrated by microbial cells in an uncoupler-sensitive fashion. Steady-state fluorescence measurements with Micrococcus luteus indicated that provided the added dye concentration is below approximately 1 mmol/1, uptake is fully uncoupler-sensitive and is not accompanied by significant self-quenching of the fluorescence of accumulated dye molecules. ‘Viable’ and ‘non-viable’ cells are easily and quantitatively distinguished in a flow cytometer by the extent to which they accumulate the dye. The viability of a very slowly growing chemostat culture of Mic. luteus is apparently only about40–50%, as judged by plate counts, but most of the ‘non-viable’ cells can be resuscitated by incubation of the culture in nutrient medium before plating. The extent to which individual cells accumulate rhodamine 123 can be rapidly assessed by flow cytometry, and reflects the three distinguishable physiological states exhibited by the culture (‘non-viable’, ‘viable’ and ‘non-viable-but-resuscitable’). Gram-negative bacteria do not accumulate rhodamine 123 significantly because their outer membrane is not permeable to it; a simple treatment overcomes this. Flow cytometry using rhodamine 123 should prove of general utility for the rapid assessment of microbial viability and vitality.