A highly mobile insertion sequence designated IS1110 was detected in Mycobacterium avium strain LR541 following an observed increase in size of the plasmid pLR20. Genomic libraries of M. avium strains carrying either parental pLR20 or the modified plasmid (pLR20') were constructed and the sequence of the relevant clones was determined to characterize the insertion sequence and the target region. IS1110 is a 1457 bp element lacking terminal inverted repeats, and is related to IS900 (from Mycobacterium paratuberculosis), IS901 and IS902 (from M. avium) and to IS116 (from Streptomyces clavuligerus). LR541 carries several copies of IS1110. Individual colonies from the same plate show differences in Southern blot patterns when tested with an IS1110-derived probe; the ability to detect transposition events in random colonies, without any selection pressure, indicates an exceptionally high degree of mobility, which will be invaluable for transposon mutagenesis. Analyses of M. avium isolates from human, veterinary, and environmental sources showed that IS1110-hybridizing sequences are present in some M. avium isolates but they were not detected in strains of other mycobacterial species. The polymorphism exhibited in M. avium isolates suggests that this element may be useful for molecular epidemiological studies of M. avium infections.