Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are very likely footprints of ancient germ-cell infections. HERV sequences encompass about 1% of the human genome. HERVs have retained the potential of other retroelements to retrotranspose and thus to change genomic structure and function. The genomes of almost all HERV families are highly defective. Recent progress has allowed the identification of the biologically most active family, HTDV/HERV-K, which codes for viral proteins and particles and is highly expressed in germ-cell tumors. The demonstrable and potential roles of HTDV/HERV-K as well as of other human elements in disease and in maintaining genome plasticity are illustrated.