The 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequence of the pentachlorophenol degrader Sphingomonas chlorophenolica strain RA2 was used to generate specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers for the detection of this strain in soil, whereas a region internal to the two primers was used to provide an S. chlorophenolica strain RA2-specific oligonucleotide probe. The PCR detection system resulted in a 727 bp product detectable via gel electrophoresis and hybridization. It was specific for strain RA2 and its close relative, S. chlorophenolica ATCC 39723, as evidenced by PCR amplifications of a range of bacterial genomic DNAs. Tests of total microbial community DNA obtained from five uninoculated and two RA2-inoculated soils confirmed this specificity for introduced S. chlorophenolica RA2. Strain RA2 could be detected in soil down to a level of 103 cfu g-1 soil. Two strategies were followed to generate: internal standard DNA for competitive PCR. First, a 479 bp MIMICS fragment was obtained based on a previously constructed gene cassette; however, this standard did not reliably quantify RA2 targets. Low stringency PCR performed with a range of bacterial genomic DNAs resulted in the generation of an amplicon with a Paenibacillus azotofixans strain that was slightly smaller than the RA2-derived product. Both products were easily separable via conventional gel electrophoresis. The use of this competitor in a threefold dilution scheme applied to the target DNA allowed for the quantitative detection of RA2-specific target DNA molecules from pure culture and from soil. The fate of strain RA2 in pentachlorophenol-contaminated soil was described using this competitive PCR approach, and the organism was shown to persist at two inoculum levels over prolonged periods of time.