Repetitive elements provide important clues about chromosome dynamics, evolutionary forces, and mechanisms for exchange of genetic information between organisms. Repetitive sequences, especially the mobile elements, have many potential applications in genetic research. DNA transposons and retroposons are routinely used for insertional mutagenesis, gene mapping, gene tagging, and gene transfer in several model systems. Once they are developed for the zebrafish, they will greatly facilitate the identification, mapping, and isolation of genes involved in development as well as the investigation of the evolutionary processes that have been shaping eukaryotic genomes. In this review repetitive elements are characterized in terms of their lengths and other physical properties, copy numbers, modes of amplification, and mobilities within a single genome and between genomes. Examples of how they can be used to screen genomes for species and individual strain differences are presented. This review does not cover repetitive gene families that encode well-studied products such as rRNAs, tRNAs, and the like.