We have designed cosmid vectors for rapid genomic "walking" and restriction mapping. These vectors contain the transcription promoters from either bacteriophage SP6, T7, or T3 flanking a unique BamHI cloning site. Mammalian expression modules encoding the dominant marker neomycin phosphotransferase or the amplifiable dihydrofolate reductase gene expressed from SV40 promoters were inserted for use in gene transfer studies. Restriction sites for the enzymes Not I and Sfi I, which cut mammalian DNA very infrequently, have been engineered near the transcriptional promoters to enable the excision of most inserts as single, full-length fragments. Genomic libraries representative of mouse, human, and hamster genomes were constructed by inserting 33- to 44-kilobase-pair (kbp) DNA fragments, generated by partial cleavage of genomic DNA with Mbo I or Sau3A, into the unique BamHI site. Digestion of recombinant cosmids with restriction enzymes that cleave frequently but do not disrupt the transcriptional promoters generates two small DNA templates for the synthesis of end-specific RNA probes to facilitate directional "walking." Cosmid restriction maps can be determined rapidly by one of several methods. The cosmids and methods we describe should have wide utility in determining the functional and structural organization of complex eukaryotic genomes and for physically linking distant genetic loci.