Alien are highly repeated plant transposable elements characterized by their small size (approx. 400 bp), high A + T content, target site specificity, potential to form stable secondary structures and possession of a conserved 28-bp terminal inverted repeat (TIR). Besides the TIR, they contain subterminal inverted repeat motifs (SIRM), as well as the 5'-CATGCAT domain which has been reported to be a cis-acting regulatory element of gene expression in some plant species. Although they were first identified in the intron of the bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) Sn-2 gene and in the promoter region of the potato starch phosphorylase-encoding gene, Alien arranged in tandem are present in the promoter of patatin class-II genes. PCR on the bell pepper genomic DNA using the Alien TIR consensus sequence as primer yielded DNA fragments of nearly 400 bp. These fragments have characteristics of transposable elements and contain numerous motifs reminiscent of Alien elements. Importantly, PCR on genomic DNA extracts from various monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants using the TIR consensus sequence as primer and subsequent hybridization with different Alien probes revealed that these elements are ubiquitously present and highly repeated in the genomes of higher plants.