A new mutagenesis assay system based on the phage 434 cI gene carried on a low-copy number plasmid was used to investigate the effect of UV light on intermolecular transposition of IS10. Inactivation of the target gene by IS10 insertion was detected by the expression of the tet gene from the phage 434 PR promoter, followed by Southern blot analysis of plasmids isolated from TetR colonies. UV irradiation of cells harboring the target plasmid and a donor plasmid carrying an IS10 element led to an increase of up to 28-fold in IS10 transposition. Each UV-induced transposition of IS10 was accompanied by fusion of the donor and acceptor plasmid into a cointegrate structure, due to coupled homologous recombination at the insertion site, similar to the situation in spontaneous IS10 transposition. UV radiation also induced transposition of IS10 from the chromosome to the target plasmid, leading almost exclusively to the integration of the target plasmid into the chromosome. UV induction of IS10 transposition did not depend on the umuC and uvrA gene product, but it was not observed in lexA3 and DeltarecA strains, indicating that the SOS stress response is involved in regulating UV-induced transposition. IS10 transposition, known to increase the fitness of Escherichia coli, may have been recruited under the SOS response to assist in increasing cell survival under hostile environmental conditions. To our knowledge, this is the first report on the induction of transposition by a DNA-damaging agent and the SOS stress response in bacteria.