Murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV-68) is a virus of wild rodents and is a convenient small animal model for studies of gammaherpesvirus pathogenesis. We have sequenced 6162 bp at the left end of the MHV-68 genome and identified two unique open reading frames (ORFs) (ORF2 and ORF3) and an ORF (ORF-1) which displays similarity to poxvirus members of the serpin family. Interspersed with the ORFs is a family of eight novel wRNA-like sequences sharing tRNA-like predicted secondary structures and RNA polymerase III promoter elements. These sequences are expressed to high levels during lytic infection and are processed into mature tRNAs with post-transcriptionally added 3' CCA termini, indicating their recognition as tRNAs by cellular machinery. Acidic Northern analysis of four tRNAs tested has demonstrated that they are not aminoacylated by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases present in the infected cell. Thus, it is currently unclear what biological function these uncharged viral tRNA-like sequences may fulfil. In situ hybridization analysis has shown that in addition to being expressed within productively infected tissues during acute stages of infection, the tRNA-like sequences are abundantly expressed within splenic germinal centres of latently infected mice. Therefore, the MHV-68 viral tRNAs represent a marker for latent infection and constitute the first report of tRNA-like sequences encoded by a virus of eukaryotes.