We have isolated a new family of mobile elements, Micron, which occur within microsatellites dispersed throughout the rice (Oryza sativa) genome. The first of these segments, Micron 001, was found in a microsatellite consisting of a (TA)n sequence upstream of the rice phytochrome A (phyA) gene. PCR analysis of related rice species suggests that Micron 001 integrated into this microsatellite locus prior to the divergence of the two wild species O. rufipogon and O. barthii from a common ancestor. Micron elements are short (393-bp), possess subterminal inverted repeats and the single strands have the potential to form stable secondary structures via several internal repeats. Aside from the absence of terminal inverted repeats, these characteristics resemble those of MITEs (Miniature Inverted-Repeat Transposable Elements). We estimate that 100-200 copies of Micron-related sequences are present in the rice nuclear genome, while the chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes lack this sequence. Nineteen homologs of Micron 001 exhibited extremely high nucleotide sequence conservation (greater than 90%), suggesting a recent spread of Micron elements within the genus Oryza. Surprisingly, nucleotide sequence alignments showed that all of the Micron elements are flanked on both sides by microsatellite sequence consisting mainly of (TA)n. Twenty-three elements were mapped to seven separate chromosomes. Therefore Micron elements form a family of dispersed, highly conserved repeats. This is the first report of a transposable element that targets microsatellite loci.