Genomic instability has been accepted as providing a phenotypic variety of malignant cells within a developing tumour. Defects in genetic recombination can often lead to phenotypic differences; therefore, it is possible that metastatic variant cell lines exhibit their particular phenotype as a result of an altered ability to catalyse homologous recombination. We have investigated recombination efficiency in B16 melanoma metastatic variants, using a plasmid, pDR, as a recombination substrate. The plasmid contains two truncated, nontandem but overlapping segments of the neomycin resistance gene (neo 1 and neo 2), separated by the functional gpt gene unit. Only a successful recombination of the two neo segments will generate a functionally intact neomycin gene. Extrachromosomal recombination here was a transient measure of the cells to recombine the neo fragments in an intra- or intermolecular manner. Extrachromosomal recombination frequencies were higher in the high metastasis variants (BL6, ML8) compared with the low metastatic F1 cells. On the other hand, the frequency of chromosomal recombination (after plasmid integration) was higher for the low metastasis (F1) cell line compared with the highly metastatic variants, BL6 and ML8. Since the recombination assay measures only successful recombination events, we have interpreted the observed higher incidence of chromosomal recombination in the low metastatic variant line as indicative of a more stable genome. Similarly, a higher inherent instability in the genome of the high metastasis variants would render these less efficient at producing and maintaining successful recombination events, and this was found to be true by Southern analysis. The results presented show that frequency of recombination may be adduced as evidence for implicating genomic instability in the generation of variant cell populations during metastatic spread. Such an interpretation is also compatible with the Nowell hypothesis for tumour progression.