In the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, the body wall muscles contain paramyosin and two different types of myosin heavy chain, MHC A and MHC B. In mutants that do not express MHC B or that express defective paramyosin, muscle structure is disrupted and movement is impaired. Second site mutations in the sup-3 locus partially reverse these defects and are correlated with a 2- to 3-fold increase in the accumulation of the MHC A isoform. The sup-3 mutations occur at a high frequency (10(-4] after ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) mutagenesis. This is comparable to the average EMS-induced mutation rate per gene in C. elegans. In this paper we show that the sup-3 mutation is an amplification of the structural gene for the MHC A protein, myo-3. We employed genomic Southern hybridization with MHC gene-specific probes in order to measure the copy number of the myo-3 gene relative to that of the MHC B gene, unc-54. We have identified the putative amplification junctions for these sup-3 alleles using a set of cosmid clones which encompass myo-3 region. Although it has been suggested that gene amplification plays an important role in evolution, there are few known cases of gene amplification in the germ line cells of multicellular organisms. The results shown here provide a clear example of a heritable gene amplification event that occurs at a high frequency in the germ line. Similar events may thus represent the initial event in the evolution of new function and in the formation of multigene families.