The emergence of new infectious diseases and old diseases with new pathogenic properties is a burgeoning worldwide problem. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are just two of the most widely reported recent emerging infectious diseases. What are the factors that contribute to the rapid evolution of viral species? Various hypotheses have been proposed, all involving opportunities for virus spread (for example, agricultural practices, climate changes, rainforest clearing or air travel). However, the nutritional status of the host, until recently, has not been considered a contributing factor to the emergence of infectious disease. In this review, we show that host nutritional status can influence not only the host response to the pathogen, but can also influence the genetic make-up of the viral genome. This latter finding markedly changes our concept of host-pathogen interactions and creates a new paradigm for the study of such phenomena.