Numerous prokaryote genomes contain structures known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs), composed of 25-50 bp repeats separated by unique sequence spacers of similar length. CRISPR structures are found in the vicinity of four genes named cas1 to cas4. In silico analysis revealed another cluster of three genes associated with CRISPR structures in many bacterial species, named here as cas1B, cas5 and cas6, and also revealed a certain number of spacers that have homology with extant genes, most frequently derived from phages, but also derived from other extrachromosomal elements. Sequence analysis of CRISPR structures from 24 strains of Streptococcus thermophilus and Streptococcus vestibularis confirmed the homology of spacers with extrachromosomal elements. Phage sensitivity of S. thermophilus strains appears to be correlated with the number of spacers in the CRISPR locus the strain carries. The authors suggest that the spacer elements are the traces of past invasions by extrachromosomal elements, and hypothesize that they provide the cell immunity against phage infection, and more generally foreign DNA expression, by coding an anti-sense RNA. The presence of gene fragments in CRISPR structures and the nuclease motifs in cas genes of both cluster types suggests that CRISPR formation involves a DNA degradation step.