- The maize transposon Activator (Ac) was the first mobile DNA element to be discovered. Since then, other elements were found that share similarity to Ac, suggesting that it belongs to a transposon superfamily named hAT after hobo from Drosophila, Ac from maize, and Tam3 from snapdragon. We addressed the structure and evolution of hAT elements by developing new tools for transposon mining and searching the public sequence databases for the hallmarks of hAT elements, namely the transposase and short terminal inverted repeats (TIRs) flanked by 8-bp host duplications. We found 147 hAT-related sequences in plants, animals, and fungi. Six conserved blocks could be identified in the transposase of most hAT elements. A total of 41 hAT sequences were flanked by TIRs and 8-bp host duplications and, out of these, 34 sequences had TIRs similar to the consensus determined in this work, suggesting that they are active or recently active transposons. Phylogenetic analysis and clustering of hAT sequences suggest that the hAT superfamily is very ancient, probably predating the plant-fungi-animal separation, and that, unlike previously proposed, there is no evidence that horizontal gene transfer was involved in the evolution of hAT elements.