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The complete sequence of an insertion element IS900 in Mycobacterium paratuberculosis is reported. This is the first characterised example of a mycobacterial insertion element. IS900 consists of 1451bp of which 66% is G + C. It lacks terminal inverted and direct repeats, characteristic of Escherichia coli insertion elements but shows a degree of target sequence specificity. A single open reading frame (ORF 1197) coding for 399 amino acids is predicted. This amino acid sequence, and to a lesser extent the nucleotide sequence, show significant homologies to IS110, an insertion element of Streptomyces coelicolor A3(2). It is proposed that IS900, IS110, and similar insertion elements recently identified in disease isolates of Mycobacterium avium are members of a phylogenetically related family. IS900 will provide highly specific markers for the precise identification of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, useful in defining its relationship to animal and human diseases.