A repetitive element (IS986), previously isolated from Mycobacterium tuberculosis and shown to detect multiple restriction fragment-length polymorphisms (RFLPs), has been sequenced. It consists of a potential insertion sequence of 1358bp, with 30-bp inverted repeat ends. IS986 has four potentially significant open reading frames (ORFs): ORFa1, ORFa2 and ORFb on one strand and ORFc on the complementary strand. The sequences of the potential translated products identify IS986 as a member of the IS3 family, with an apparent frameshift between ORFa1 and ORFa2. IS986 has potential as a highly specific probe for detection and typing of M. tuberculosis, as well as for transposon mutagenesis of mycobacteria. The sequence of IS986 is virtually identical to that of another recently described element, IS6110 (Thierry et al., 1990).