Molecular virology has served to establish bovine herpesvirus 1 (BHV-1) as the prototype member of ruminant herpesviruses. Based on the genomic sequence of the virus, we aim to identify and characterize virus-specified components, to explain their concerted action, and to predict how the chain of events during the lytic and latent phases of the viral life cycle may be interrupted. The nucleotide sequence of the BHV-1 genome (136 kb) has just been completed by international cooperation (July 1995; except for a small gap in UL36). It comprises 67 unique genes and 2 genes, both duplicated, in the inverted repeats. In general, these genes exhibit strong homology at the amino acid sequence level to those of other alphaherpesviruses (HSV-1, VZV, EHV-1) and are arranged in similar order. A few genes are peculiar to only one or two herpesviruses, e.g. in BHV-1 the circ, UL0.5, UL3.5 and US1.5 genes. Not long ago, the repertoire of BHV-1 proteins under study was restricted to the three major glycoproteins (gB, gC, and gD) and thymidine kinase. The repertoire is now growing rapidly and includes 7 additional glycoproteins (gE, gI, gH, gL, gG, gK and gM), a number of enzymes (e.g. ribonucleotide reductase, DNA Polymerase, dUTPase), and a group of regulatory proteins (BICPO, 4, 22, and 27, alpha TIF). Investigations into the functions of these proteins and comparison with their counterparts in other herpesviruses should reveal which are useful targets for diagnosis, prevention or antiviral treatment. Recombinant viruses containing deletions or replacements of individual genes are being created, aiming at vaccine development and insights into pathogenesis, notably latency, neurotropism, and interference with host functions. Molecular analysis of other ruminant herpesviruses is much less advanced. Over a dozen virus species have been described; most share basic properties with BHV-1 and may be classified as alphaherpesviruses. The gammaherpesviruses are represented by the proposed agent of malignant catarrhal fever, alcelaphine herpesvirus 1, and by bovine herpesvirus 4, whose partial sequences exhibit similarity to herpesvirus saimiri.