Transposons are ubiquitous mobile genetic elements found in all eu- and prokaryotic cells. The first transposon identified, the maize Activator element, belongs to the hAT family. hAT transposons have been identified in most eukaryotic lineages, including plants, fungi, animals and even man. The basic structural and functional features of this transposon family and its phylogenetic roots are discussed in detail, including a phylogenetic tree deduced from the amino acid sequence of the most conserved part of the transposon-encoded transposase. Emphasis is given to the use of hAT transposons as tools for gene tagging and insect transformation as well as to their biological function, i.e. are they selfish DNA, beneficial companions, or even both?