A 12-kb region of the Streptococcus thermophilus CNRZ368 chromosome was found to contain two copies of IS981 (one complete and one truncated) and three copies of ISS1 (two complete, ISS1SA and ISS1SC, and one truncated, delta ISS1SB). Comparison of the nucleotide sequences of these ISS1 elements with those of previously identified iso-ISS1 elements from Lactococcus lactis and the Enterococcus genus indicated that the ISS1 group is divided into three distinct subgroups which we have named alpha, beta and gamma. Nucleotide sequences of elements belonging to the same subgroup share more than 97% identity whereas sequences of elements from different groups share only 75-85% identity. Sequence analysis of ISS1SA and delta ISS1SB showed that they are members of the alpha group. We found that ISS1SC from S. themophilus CNRZ368, an ISS1 from L. lactis IL964 and IS946 from L. lactis TEK1 resulted from recombinations between alpha and beta elements. In addition, ISS1W from L. lactis Wg2 resulted from a recombination event between a gamma element and an ISS1 belonging to an unidentified subgroup. ISS1 sequences belonging to the alpha and beta subgroups were found in both S. thermophilus and L. lactis and gamma sequences were found in both the Enterococcus genus and L. lactis. The quasi-identity of some ISS1 elements in S. thermophilus and L. lactis and the distribution of alpha and beta elements suggest that horizontal transfer of ISS1 elements recently took place from L. lactis to S. thermophilus, two lactic acid bacteria used in the manufacture of cheeses. Since the presence of IS981 in S. thermophilus CNRZ368 also probably resulted from a horizontal transfer from L. lactis [Guédon et al. (1995) Mol. Microbiol. 16, 69-78], the 12-kb region bearing IS981 and ISS1 elements could be due to the integration of a lactococcal DNA fragment into the chromosome.