A new concept for viral oncogenesis is presented which is based on experimental work on the chromosomal integration of adenovirus DNA into mammalian genomes. The mechanism of adenovirus DNA integration is akin to non-sequence-specific insertional recombination in which patch homologies between the recombination partners are frequently observed. This reaction has been imitated in a cell-free system by using nuclear extracts from hamster cells and partly purified fractions derived from them. As a consequence of foreign DNA insertion into the mammalian genome, the foreign DNA is extensively de novo methylated in specific patterns, presumably as part of a mammalian host cell defense mechanism against inserted foreign DNA which can be permanently silenced in this way. A further corollary of foreign (adenovirus or bacteriophage lambda) DNA integration is seen in extensive changes in cellular DNA methylation patterns at sites far remote from the locus of insertional recombination. Repetitive cellular, retrotransposon-like sequences are particularly, but not exclusively, prone to these increases in DNA methylation. It is conceivable that these changes in DNA methylation are a reflection of a profound overall reorganization process in the affected genomes. Could these alterations significantly contribute to the transformation events during viral or other types of oncogenesis? These sequelae of foreign DNA integration into established mammalian genomes will have to be critically considered when interpreting results obtained with transgenic, knock-out, and knock-in animals and when devising schemes for human somatic gene therapy. The interpretation of de novo methylation as a cellular defense mechanism has prompted investigations on the fate of food-ingested foreign DNA. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract provides a large surface for the entry of foreign DNA into any organism. As a tracer molecule, bacteriophage M13 DNA has been fed to mice. Fragments of this DNA can be found in small amounts (about 1% of the administered DNA) in all parts of the intestinal tract and in the feces. Furthermore, M13 DNA can be traced in the columnar epithelia of the intestine, in Peyer's plaque leukocytes, in peripheral white blood cells, in spleen, and liver. Authentic M13 DNA has been recloned from total spleen DNA. If integrated, this DNA might elicit some of the described consequences of foreign DNA insertion into the mammalian genome. Food-ingested DNA will likely infiltrate the organism more frequently than viral DNA.