Reporter gene assays are commonly used in applied toxicology to measure the transcription of genes involved in toxic responses. In these reporter gene assays, transgenic cells are used, which contain a promoter-operator region of a gene of interest fused to a reporter gene. The transcription of the gene of interest can be measured by the detection of the reporter protein. Chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT) is frequently used as a reporter protein in mammalian reporter gene assays. Although CAT can be measured by different detection systems, like enzymatic and immune assays, most of these tests are expensive, time-consuming and labor-intensive. The excellent characteristics of phages, like their high affinity and specificity, their fast, cheap and animal-friendly manufacturing process with low batch-to-batch variations and their stability, make them appropriate as alternatives for antibodies in detection assays. Therefore, in this study single-chain variable fragment (scFv) phages were selected with affinity for CAT. Several scFv phages were selected that showed affinity towards CAT in a screening ELISA. Surface plasmon resonance analyses showed that the tested scFv phages have an affinity for CAT with a dissociation constant (K(d) ) around 1¿µM. The selected scFv phages in this study could be used as capture elements in a highly sensitive sandwich ELISA to detect CAT concentration as low as 0.1¿ng ml(-1) or 4¿pM. This low detection limit demonstrates the potential of the scFv phages as an alternative for capturing antibodies in a highly sensitive detection test to measure CAT concentrations in reporter gene assays. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.