Simultaneous detection and identification of multiple pathogenic microorganisms in complex environmental samples are required in numerous diagnostic fields. Here, we describe the development of a novel, background-free ligation detection (LD) system using a single compound detector probe per target. The detector probes used, referred to as padlock probes (PLPs), are long oligonucleotides containing asymmetric target complementary regions at both their 5' and 3' ends which confer extremely specific target detection. Probes also incorporate a desthiobiotin moiety and an internal endonuclease IV cleavage site. DNA samples are PCR amplified, and the resulting products serve as potential targets for PLP ligation. Upon perfect target hybridization, the PLPs are circularized via enzymatic ligation, captured, and cleaved, allowing only the originally ligated PLPs to be visualized on a universal microarray. Unlike previous procedures, the probes themselves are not amplified, thereby ! allowing a simple PLP cleavage to yield a background-free assay. We designed and tested nine PLPs targeting several oomycetes and fungi. All of the probes specifically detected their corresponding targets and provided perfect discrimination against closely related nontarget organisms, yielding an assay sensitivity of 1 pg genomic DNA and a dynamic detection range of 10(4). A practical demonstration with samples collected from horticultural water circulation systems was performed to test the robustness of the newly developed multiplex assay. This novel LD system enables highly specific detection and identification of multiple pathogens over a wide range of target concentrations and should be easily adaptable to a variety of applications in environmental microbiology.