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The mutation rate of Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) was measured. Progeny descended from a single virion were collected after one replication cycle, and seven regions of the genome were analyzed for mutations by denaturing-gradient gel electrophoresis. In all, 65,250 nucleotides were screened, yielding nine mutations, and the RSV mutation rate was calculated as 1.4 x 10(-4) mutations per nucleotide per replication cycle. These results indicate that RSV is an extremely mutable virus. We speculate that the mutation rate of a virus may correlate inversely with the effectiveness of vaccination against a given virus and suggest that prevention of retrovirus-mediated disease via vaccination may prove difficult.