DNA tertiary structures are shown to be formed by denaturation and reannealing in vitro of molecularly-cloned DNA containing multiple tandem repeat sequences. Electron microscopy of homoduplex DNA molecules containing the human c-Harvey-ras gene revealed knot-like structures which mapped to the position of the 812 bp variable tandem repeat (VTR) sequence. We propose that the structures result from slipped-strand mispairing within the VTR and hybridisation of homologous repetitive sequences in the single-stranded loops so produced. Similar structures were also found in freshly-linearized supercoiled plasmids. More complex knot-like structures were found in homoduplexes of a 4 kb tandem array from the hypervariable region 3' to the human alpha-globin locus. Formation of such DNA tertiary structures in vitro also provides a practical method for identifying and mapping direct tandem repeat arrays that are at least 800 bp long.