The genetic analysis of the large and complex herpesviruses has been a constant challenge to herpesvirologists. Elegant methods have been developed to produce mutants in infected cells that rely on the cellular recombination machinery. Bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs), single copy F-factor-based plasmid vectors of intermediate insert capacity, have now enabled the cloning of complete herpesvirus genomes. Infectious virus genomes can be shuttled between Escherichia coli and eukaryotic cells. Herpesvirus BAC DNA engineering in E. coli by homologous recombination requires neither restriction sites nor cloning steps and allows the introduction of a wide variety of DNA modifications. Such E. coli-based technology has provided a safe, fast and effective approach to the systematic mining of the information stored in herpesvirus genomes as a result of their intimate co-evolution with their specific hosts for millions of years. Use of this technique could lead to new developments in clinical virology and basic virology research, and increase the usage of viral genomes as investigative tools and vectors.