A genetic system was developed to investigate the supercoil structure of bacterial chromosomes. New res-carrying transposons were derived from Mud11734 (MudJr1 and MudJr2) and Tn10 (Tn10dGn). The MudJr1 and MudJr2 elements each have a res site in opposite orientation so that when paired with a Tn10dGn element in the same chromosome, one MudJr res site will be ordered as a direct repeat. Deletion formation was studied in a nonessential region (~100 kb) that extends from the his operon through the cob operon. Strains with a MudJr insertion in the cobT gene at the 5' end of the cob operon plus a Tn10dGn insertion positioned either clockwise or counterclockwise from cobT were exposed to a burst of RES protein. Following a pulse of resolvase expression, deletion formation was monitored by scoring the loss of the Lac+ phenotype or by loss of tetracycline resistance. In exponentially growing populations, deletion products appeared quickly in some cells (in 10 min) but also occurred more than an hour after RES induction. The frequency of deletion (y) diminished with increasing distance (x) between res sites. Results from 15 deletion intervals fit the exponential equation y = 120 · 10((-0.02v)). We found that res sites can be plectonemically interwound over long distances (>100 kb) and that harriers to supercoil diffusion are placed stochastically within the 43- to 45-min region of the chromosome.