The three self-splicing introns in phage T4 (in the td, sunY and nrdB genes) (Fig. 1a) each have the conserved group I catalytic RNA core structure (Fig. 1b), out of which is looped an open reading frame. Although the core sequences are very similar (approximately 60% identity), the open reading frames seem to be unrelated. Single crossover recombination events between homologous core sequences in the closely linked td and nrdB introns have led to 'exon shuffling. Here we describe spontaneous double crossovers between the unlinked td and sun Y introns that result in shuffling of an intron structure element, P7.1 (refs 3 and 4). The intron domain-switch variants were isolated as genetic suppressors of a splicing-defective P7.1 deletion in the td intron. This unprecedented example of suppression through inter-intron sequence substitution indicates that the introns are in a state of genetic flux and implies the functional interchangeability of the two analogous but nonidentical P7.1 elements. The implications of such recombination events are discussed in the light of the evolution of the introns themselves as well as that of their host genomes.