Background. Retrotransposons are abundant components of plant genomes, and although some plant retrotransposons have been used as insertional mutagens, these mobile genetic elements have not been widely exploited for plant genome manipulation. In vertebrates and yeast, retrotransposons and retroviruses are routinely altered to carry additional genes that are copied into complementary (c)DNA through reverse transcription. Integration of cDNA results in gene delivery; recombination of cDNA with homologous chromosomal sequences can create targeted gene modifications. Plant retrotransposon-based vectors, therefore, may provide new opportunities for plant genome engineering. Results. A retrotransposon vector system was developed for gene delivery in plants based on the Tnt1 element from Nicotiana tabacum. Mini-Tnt1 transfer vectors were constructed that lack coding sequences yet retain the 5' and 3' long terminal repeats (LTRs) and adjacent cis sequences required for reverse transcription. The internal coding region of Tnt1 was replaced with a neomycin phosphotransferase gene to monitor replication by reverse transcription. Two different mini-Tnt1 s were developed: one with the native 5' LTR and the other with a chimeric 5' LTR that had the first 233 bp replaced by the CaMV 35 S promoter. After transfer into tobacco protoplasts, both vectors undergo retrotransposition using GAG and POL proteins provided in trans by endogenous Tnt1 elements. The transposition frequencies of mini-Tnt1 vectors are comparable with native Tnt1 elements, and like the native elements, insertion sites are within or near coding sequences. In this paper, we provide evidence that template switching occurs during mini-Tnt1 reverse transcription, indicating that multiple copies of Tnt1 mRNA are packaged into virus-like particles. Conclusions. Our data demonstrate that mini-Tnt1 vectors can replicate efficiently in tobacco cells using GAG and POL proteins provided in trans by native Tnt1 elements. This suggests that helper Tnt1 constructs can be developed to enable a Tnt1-based two-component vector system that could be used in other plant species. Such a vector system may prove useful for gene delivery or the production of cDNA that can serve as a donor molecule for gene modification through homologous recombination.