Influenza A viruses contain genomes composed of eight separate segments of negative-sense RNA. Circulating human strains are notorious for their tendency to accumulate mutations from one year to the next and cause recurrent epidemics. However, the segmented nature of the genome also allows for the exchange of entire genes between different viral strains. The ability to manipulate influenza gene segments in various combinations in the laboratory has contributed to its being one of the best characterized viruses, and studies on influenza have provided key contributions toward the understanding of various aspects of virology in general. However, the genetic plasticity of influenza viruses also has serious potential implications regarding vaccine design, pathogenicity, and the capacity for novel viruses to emerge from natural reservoirs and cause global pandemics.