DNA sequences of the reverse transcriptase gene of long terminal repeat (LTR) and non-LTR (non-viral) retrotransposons have been isolated and cloned from the genome of sugar beet (Beta vulgaris). Both retrotransposon types are highly amplified in sugar beet and may account for 2-5% of the genome. The BNR1 family, representing the first non-viral retrotransposon reported from a dicotyledonous species, shows homology to the mammalian L1 family of long interspersed repeated sequences (LINEs) and to retrotransposable elements from maize and lily. Sequences of the Tbv family are homologous to the Ty1-copia class of LTR retrotransposons. The BNR1 and Tbv retrotransposon families are characterized by sequence heterogeneity and are probably defective. The deduced peptide sequences were used to investigate the relation to other retroelements from plants, insects and mammals. Fluorescence in situ hybridization was used to investigate the physical distribution and revealed that both retrotransposon families are present on all sugar beet chromosomes and largely excluded from chromosomal regions harbouring the 18S-5.8S-25S rRNA genes. The BNR1 family is organized in discrete clusters, while the Tbv family of Ty1-copia-like retrotransposons shows a more uniform distribution along chromosome arms and is absent from some chromosomal regions. These contrasting distributions emphasize the differences in evolutionary amplification and dispersion mechanisms between the two types of retrotransposons. The in situ results of both elements reflect significant features of a higher order structure of the genome, as it is known for both short interspersed repeated sequences (SINEs) and LINEs in human.