For bacteria, the primary genetic barrier against the genetic exchange of DNA that is not self-transmissible is dissimilarity in the bacterial DNA sequences concerned. Genetic exchange by homologous recombination is frequent among close bacterial relatives and recent experiments have shown that it can enable the uptake of closely linked nonhomologous foreign DNA. Artificial vectors are mosaics of mobile DNA elements from free-living bacterial isolates and so bear a residual similarity to their ubiquitous natural progenitors. This homology is tightly linked to the multitude of different DNA sequences that are inserted into synthetic vectors. Can homology between vector and bacterial DNA enable the uptake of these foreign DNA inserts? In this review we investigate pUC18 as an example of an artificial vector and consider whether its homology to broad host-range antibiotic resistance transposons and plasmid origins of replication could enable the uptake of insert DNA in the light of studies of homology-facilitated foreign DNA uptake. We also discuss the disposal of recombinant DNA, its persistence in the environment and whether homologies to pUC18 may exist in naturally competent bacteria. Most DNA that is inserted into the cloning site of artificial vectors would be of little use to a bacterium, but perhaps not all.