Repetitive DNA elements representing 60-70% of the total repetitive DNA in tetraploid cotton (Gossypium barbadense L.) and comprising 30-36% of the tetraploid cotton genome were isolated from a genomic library of DNA digested with a mixture of four blunt-end cutting restriction enzymes. A total of 313 clones putatively containing nuclear repetitive sequences were classified into 1103 families, based on cross hybridization and Southern blot analysis. The 103 families were characterized in terms of genome organization, methylation pattern, abundance, and DNA variation. As in many other eukaryotic genomes, interspersed repetitive elements are the most abundant class of repetitive DNA in the cotton genome. Paucity of tandem repeat families with high copy numbers (>10(4)) may be a unique feature of the cotton genome as compared with other higher plant genomes. Interspersed repeats tend to be methylated, while tandem repeats seem to be largely unmethylated in the cotton genome. Minimal variation in repertoire and overall copy number of repetitive DNA elements among different tetraploid cotton species is consistent with the hypothesis of a relatively recent origin of tetraploid cottons.