As is the case with mammals in general, primate genomes are inundated with repetitive sequence. Although much of this repetitive content consists of “molecular fossils” inherited from early mammalian ancestors, a significant portion of this material comprises active mobile element lineages. Despite indications that these elements played a major role in shaping the architecture of the genome, there remain many unanswered questions surrounding the nature of the host-element relationship. Here we review advances in our understanding of the host–mobile element dynamic and its overall impact on primate evolution. BioEssays 27:785–794, 2005. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.