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Selectable marker genes play an important role in plant transformation. The level of selection pressure is generally established by generating a kill curve for the selectable marker. In most cases, the lowest concentration which kills all explants is used. This study examined two selectable marker genes, phosphinothricin acetyl transferase (PAT) and hygromycin phosphotransferase (HPT), in transformation of tobacco leaf disks. Experiments to determine the lethal level of the herbicide, glufosinate-ammonium (phosphinothricin) (PPT) using a leaf-disk regeneration assay established that no shoots regenerated at 2 to 4 mg PPT per 1. Likewise with the antibiotic, hygromycin (HYG), no plants regenerated at 50 mg hygromycin per 1. In contrast, after cocultivation of the leaf disks with Agrobacterium tumefaciens containing either the PAT or HPT gene in combination with a Bt gene for insect resistance, plants were successfully regenerated from leaf disks at 2 to 4 mg PPT per 1 and 50 mg hygromycin per 1. However, most plants regenerated at 2 and 3 mg PPT per 1 were found to be nontransformed (95-100% escapes) by i) Southern-blot analysis, ii) herbicide application test, and iii) insect feeding bioassay. On the other hand, plants that regenerated on 50 mg hygromycin per 1 and 4 mg PPT per 1 were transgenic as determined by Southern analysis, leaf assay for PPT or HYG resistance, and death of tobacco budworms feeding on these leaves. This study showed a significant level of cross-protection and/or transient expression of the PAT selectable marker gene allowing escapes (95-100%) at selection levels of 2 and 3 mg PPT per 1 which completely kill controls. On the other hand, the HPT gene at 50 mg is efficient in selecting for T-DNA integration.