Several families of positive-selection cloning vectors were constructed, based on the principle of palindrome nonviability first used by Hagan and Warren [Gene 19 (1982) 147-151]. Each vector, derived from either pBR322 or RSF1010 (a broad-host-range plasmid), contains a long inverted repeat (2 x 366 to 2 x 1008 bp) ending in a symmetrical polylinker. Plasmids with long palindromes are not viable in most strains of Escherichia coli and in at least one Gram-positive bacterium. These palindrome-containing vectors therefore transform such strains at a very low frequency unless a DNA fragment is cloned within the polylinker at the center of the palindrome. Transformation by plasmids lacking an insert is reduced by two to four orders of magnitude. Such vectors can be propagated in a palindrome-tolerant strain; however, long symmetrical deletions then occur within the palindrome. To suppress the resulting deletion derivatives, vectors have been constructed so that an extensive deletion would remove the selectable marker. Alternatively, the vectors can be propagated in any strain of E. coli so long as the palindrome is interrupted by a nonpalindromic DNA fragment. We also present several symmetrical polylinkers and drug-resistance cassettes within the vectors. These components can be interchanged to make new positive-selection vectors as needed, and the cassettes are useful in insertional mutagenesis as well. A general method is described to convert virtually any small or medium-sized plasmid into a positive-selection vector.