A system to assay intrachromosomal homologous recombination during the complete life-cycle of a whole higher eukaryote was set up. Arabidopsis thaliana plants were transformed with a recombination substrate carrying a non-selectable and quantitatively detectable marker gene. The recombination substrates contain two overlapping, non-functional deletion mutants of a chimeric beta-glucuronidase (uidA) gene. Upon recombination, as proven by Southern blot analysis, a functional gene is restored and its product can be detected by histochemical staining. Therefore, cells in which recombination events occurred, and their progeny, can be precisely localized in the whole plant. Recombination was observed in all plant organs examined, from the seed stage until the flowering stage of somatic plant development. Meristematic recombination events revealed cell lineage patterns. Overall recombination frequencies typically were in the range 10(-6)-10(-7) events/genome. Recombination frequencies were found to differ in different organs of particular transgenic lines.