Epidemiologic and genetic evidence suggests that influenza A viruses evolve more rapidly than other viruses in humans. Although the high mutation rate of the virus is often cited as the cause of the extensive variation, direct measurement of this parameter has not been obtained in vivo. In this study, the rate of mutation in tissue culture for the nonstructural (NS) gene of influenza A virus and for the VP1 gene in poliovirus type 1 was assayed by direct sequence analysis. Each gene was repeatedly sequenced in over 100 viral clones which were descended from a single virion in one plaque generation. A total of 108 NS genes of influenza virus were sequenced, and in the 91,708 nucleotides analyzed, seven point changes were observed. A total of 105 VP1 genes of poliovirus were sequenced, and in the 95,688 nucleotides analyzed, no mutations were observed. We then calculated mutation rates of 1.5 x 10-5 and less than 2.1 x 10-6 mutations per nucleotide per infectious cycle for influenza virus and poliovirus, respectively. We suggest that the higher mutation rate of influenza A virus may promote the rapid evolution of this virus in nature.