Rates of spontaneous mutation per genome as measured in the laboratory are remarkably similar within broad groups of organisms but differ strikingly among groups. Mutation rates in RNA viruses, whose genomes contain ca. 10(4) bases, are roughly 1 per genome per replication for lytic viruses and roughly 0.1 per genome per replication for retroviruses and a retrotransposon. Mutation rates in microbes with DNA-based chromosomes are close to 1/300 per genome per replication; in this group, therefore, rates per base pair vary inversely and hugely as genome sizes vary from 6 x 10(3) to 4 x 10(7) bases or base pairs. Mutation rates in higher eukaryotes are roughly 0.1-100 per genome per sexual generation but are currently indistinguishable from 1/300 per cell division per effective genome (which excludes the fraction of the genome in which most mutations are neutral). It is now possible to specify some of the evolutionary forces that shape these diverse mutation rates.