We develop a murine retrovirus shuttle vector system for the efficient introduction of selectable and nonselectable DNA sequences into mammalian cells and recovery of the inserted sequences as molecular clones. Three protocols allow rapid recovery of vector DNA sequences from mammalian cells. Two of the methods rely on SV40 T-antigen-mediated replication of the vector sequences and yield thousands of bacterial transformants per 5 X 10(6) mammalian cells. The majority of plasmids recovered by all three protocols exhibited the proper structure and were as active as the parental vector in the generation of transmissible retrovirus genomes upon transfection of mammalian cells. One of the rescue methods, which relies on "onion skin" replication and excision of an integrated provirus from the host chromosome, enables facile recovery of the chromosomal site of proviral integration. The system was also used to generate, and then efficiently recover, a cDNA version of a genomic insert from the adenovirus E1A region.