A new gene cluster, designated sepABC and a divergently transcribed sepR, was found downstream of the two-component todST phosphorelay system that regulates toluene degradation (the tod pathway) in Pseudomonas putida F1 (PpF1). The deduced amino acid sequences encoded by sepABC show a high homology to bacterial proteins known to be involved in solvent efflux or multidrug pumps. SepA, SepB and SepC are referred to be periplasmic, inner membrane and outer membrane efflux proteins respectively. Effects on growth of various PpF1 mutants compared to that of the wild type in the presence of toluene indicated a possible protective role of the solvent efflux system in a solvent-stressed environment. Growth tests with the complemented mutants confirmed the involvement of the Sep proteins in conferring solvent tolerance. The sepR gene encodes a 260-residue polypeptide that is a member of the E. coli IclR repressor protein family. The repressor role of SepR was established by conducting tests with a sep-lacZ transcriptional fusion in Escherichia coli and PpF1, expression of SepR as a maltose-binding fusion protein in a DNA binding assay, and mRNA analysis. Southern hybridization experiments and analysis of the P. putida KT2440 genome sequence indicated that sepR is a relatively rare commodity compared to homologues of the sepABC genes. We developed a whole-cell bioluminescent biosensor, PpF1G4, which contains a chromosomally based sep-lux transcriptional fusion. The biosensor showed significant induction of the sepABC genes by a wide variety of aromatic molecules, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and all three isomers of xylene (BTEX), naphthalene, and complex mixtures of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons. PpF1G4 represents a second-generation biosensor that is not based on a catabolic promoter but is nonetheless inducible by aromatic pollutants and moreover functional under nutrient-rich conditions.