The chemical structure, reactivity and metabolic fate of the insecticide dichlorvos (2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate) are discussed in relation to the possible genotoxicity of this and other methyl phosphate triesters. Recent attempts to demonstrate the methylation of DNA following exposure of bacteria and animals to dichlorvos are reviewed. On the basis of comparative data relating mutagenesis to methylation reactions, it seems entirely appropriate to conclude that the mutagenicity of dichlorvos to bacteria is due solely to methylation of the bacterial DNA under the conditions of these tests. However, the methylation of mammalian DNA could not be demonstrated under realistic exposure conditions (when the alkylating mutagen methyl methanesulphonate afforded clearly measurable methylation). The failure to detect methylation by dichlorvos in vivo is attributed to the operation of highly efficient enzyme-catalysed biotransformations which rely largely on the phosphorylating reactivity of dichlorvos. The biotransformation pathways, characterised mostly in the rat, appear to be common also to pig, mouse, hamster, and man.