The maize P gene conditions red phlobaphene pigmentation to the pericarp and cob. Starting from two unstable P alleles which carry insertions of the transposable element Ac, we have derived 51 P null alleles; 47 of the 51 null alleles have a 17-kb deletion which removes the 4.5-kb Ac element and 12.5 kb of P sequences flanking both sides of Ac. The deletion endpoints lie within two 5.2-kb homologous direct repeats which flank the P gene. A P allele which contains the direct repeats, but does not have an Ac insertion between the direct repeats, shows very little sporophytic or gametophytic instability. The apparent frequency of sporophytic mutations was not increased when Ac was introduced in trans. Southern analysis of DNA prepared from the pericarp tissue demonstrates that the deletions can occur premeiotically, in the somatic cells during development of the pericarp. Evidence is presented that the deletions occurred by homologous recombination between the two direct repeats, and that the presence of an Ac element at the P locus is associated with the recombination/deletion. These results add another aspect to the spectrum of activities of Ac: the destabilization of flanking direct repeat sequences.