Posttranscriptional gene-silencing phenomena such as cosuppression and RNA interference are associated with the occurrence of small, about 21-23 nt short RNA species homologous to the silenced gene. We here show that the small RNA present in silenced transgenic plants can easily be detected in total RNA isolated according to standard procedures. This will allow for the development of routine and early screenings for the presence of small RNA species and, therefore, gene silencing in transgenic plants. We further demonstrate that the small RNA fraction can be visualized with the SYBR Green II RNA stain, isolated from a gel, labeled and used as a specific probe. Using these approaches, we have fine-mapped the sequences of the GUS gene that are represented in the small RNA fraction of a GUS-silenced tobacco line containing an inverted repeat of the GUS gene. In this tobacco line, the silencing-associated small RNA is a mixture of fragments that cover the 3' two-thirds of the GUS coding region. The 5' coding and the 3' noncoding ends of the GUS mRNA are not represented in the small RNA fraction. The RNA fragments are not likely to be a primary synthesis product of an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, but rather degradation products from nuclease activity. Surprisingly, RNA isolated from wild-type, untransformed plants showed the presence of a similar-sized small RNA pool. This might indicate the existence of small RNA species from putative endogenous genes that are down regulated by a similar posttranscriptional gene-silencing mechanism. The possibility of isolating and labeling the small RNA pool from wild-type plants will provide a way to identify and study such putative genes.