Transposable elements have been used as an effective mutagen and as a tool to clone tagged genes. Insertion of a transposable element into a gene can lead to loss- or gain-of-function, changes in expression pattern, or can have no effect on gene function at all, depending on whether the insertion took place in coding or non-coding regions of the gene. Cloning transposable elements from different plant species has made them available as a tool for the isolation of tagged genes using homologous or heterologous tagging strategies. Based on these transposons, new elements have been engineered bearing reporter genes that can be used for expression analysis of the tagged gene, or resistance genes that can be used to select for knockout insertions. While many genes have been cloned using transposon tagging following traditional forward genetics strategies, gene cloning has ceased to be the rate-limiting step in the process of determining sequence-function relations in several important plant model species. Large-scale insertion mutagenesis and identification of insertion sites following a reverse genetics strategy appears to be the best method for unravelling the biological role of the thousands of genes with unknown functions identified by genome or expressed sequence tag (EST) sequencing projects. Here we review the progress in forward tagging technologies and discuss reverse genetics strategies and their applications in different model species.