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The requirements for transformation of rat embryo fibroblasts (REFs) by transfected ras and myc oncogenes were explored. Under conditions of dense monolayer culture, neither oncogene was able to transform REFs on its own. However, the introduction of a ras oncogene together with a selectable neomycin resistance marker into REFs allowed killing of the normal nontransfected cells and the outgrowth of colonies of ras transformants, 10% of which survived crisis and became tumorigenic. These cells expressed greater than 10-fold-higher levels of ras p21 than tumorigenic cells cotransfected with ras and myc oncogenes. The myc oncogene similarly was unable to induce tumorigenic conversion of REFs unless especially refractile colonies of oncogene-bearing cells, produced by use of a cotransfected selectable marker, were picked and subcultured. Tumorigenic conversion of REFs by single transfected oncogenes appears to require special culture conditions and high levels of gene expression.