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Several discoveries are noteworthy for allowing us to probe the recesses of the virus- infected cell and to search for cryptic viral genomes which might provide clues in our studies of cancer etiology or developmental biology. One of the most notable was the dis- covery of reverse transcriptase. This marked a momentous occasion in the history of molecular biology. Not only did it provide insight into the mechanism of persistence of retroviruses but it also provided us with an enzyme that could synthesize a DNA copy of any RNA. This DNA copy could then be used as a hybridization reagent to search for both complementary DNA and viral-specific RNA. Thus one could follow the course of any viral infection or probe in tumor cells for hidden viral genomes. Second, a great deal of credit must be given to the geneticists who isolated the various deletion mutants in the 'avian retrovirus system and thus provided us with the frrst means of isolating gene-spe- cific probes. Finally, the laboratories which have mapped the genome have provided us with the framework in which to ask very specific questions with our gene-specific probes. Recently, numerous excellent reviews concerning various aspects of the retroviruses have appeared. In this review I shall not even attempt to present a comprehensive review of retroviruses.