The genetic content of wild-type human cytomegalovirus was investigated by sequencing the 235 645 bp genome of a low passage strain (Merlin). Substantial regions of the genome (genes RL1 -UL11, UL105-UL112 and UL120-UL150) were also sequenced in several other strains, including two that had not been passaged in cell culture. Comparative analyses, which employed the published genome sequence of a high passage strain (AD169), indicated that Merlin accurately reflects the wild-type complement of 165 genes, containing no obvious mutations other than a single nucleoticle substitution that truncates gene UL128. A sizeable subset of genes exhibits unusually high variation between strains, and comprises many, but not all, of those that encode proteins known or predicted to be secreted or membrane-associated. In contrast to unpassaged strains, all of the passaged strains analysed have visibly disabling mutations in one or both of two groups of genes that may influence cell tropism. One comprises UL128, UL130 and UL131A, which putatively encode secreted proteins, and the other contains RL5A, RL13 and UL9, which are members of the RL11 glycoprotein gene family. The case in support of a lack of protein-coding potential in the region between UL105 and UL111A was also strengthened.