The extreme thermoacidophiles of the genus Sulfolobus are among the best-studied archaea but have lacked small, reliable plasmid vectors, which have proven extremely useful for manipulating and analyzing genes in other microorganisms. Here we report the successful construction of a series of Sulfolobus-Escherichia coli shuttle vectors based on the small multicopy plasmid pRN1 from Sulfolobus islandicus. Selection in suitable uracil auxotrophs is provided through inclusion of pyrEF genes in the plasmid. The shuttle vectors do not integrate into the genome and do not rearrange. The plasmids allow functional overexpression of genes, as could be demonstrated for the beta-glycosidase (lacS) gene of S. solfataricus. In addition, we demonstrate that this beta-glycosidase gene could function as selectable marker in S. solfataricus. The shuttle plasmids differ in their interruption sites within pRN1 and allowed us to delineate functionally important regions of pRN1. The orf56/orf904 operon appears to be essential for pRN1 replication, in contrast interruption of the highly conserved orf80/plrA gene is tolerated. The new vector system promises to facilitate genetic studies of Sulfolobus and to have biotechnological uses, such as the overexpression or optimization of thermophilic enzymes that are not readily performed in mesophilic hosts.