The specific, sensitive and reliable detection of mycoplasma contamination in cell cultures is an important part of mycoplasma control. We have sought to develop and validate a method for mycoplasma detection which is sensitive and accurate, but also practical in the sense of time spent, costs, and applicability in the standard laboratory; finally, the method should be suitable for screening large numbers of test specimens. To that end, we adapted a previously developed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method for daily routine application. This single-step PCR uses a mixture of primers annealing to gene sequences coding for evolutionarily conserved 16S rRNA of different mycoplasma species, including the ones most commonly found in cell cultures. An internal control was introduced to exclude any false-negative tests resulting from technical PCR problems. This mycoplasma detection by PCR has been validated prospectively on 201 consecutive leukemia-lymphoma cell lines received at the institute over a 3-year period and on 118 initially positive cell lines after anti-mycoplasma treatment with antibiotics. The sensitivity (detection of true positives) of this PCR detection assay was 96% and the specificity (detection of true negatives) was also 96%, with positive and negative predictive values (probability of correct result) of 86% and 99%, respectively. PCR defined the mycoplasma status with 96% accuracy (detection of true positives and true negatives). Besides the high sensitivity and specificity, further attractive features of the PCR approach are the ease and speed with which large numbers of specimens can be tested. PCR mycoplasma analysis provides a readily available, quick and reliable test system with which to manage the important issue of mycoplasma contamination of cell lines.