The majority of human, animal and plant viral pathogens possess genomes composed of RNA. The strategies evolved for expression and replication of viral RNA genomes can differ significantly from those utilized for expression and replication of host-cell genetic material. Consequently, knowledge of the molecular details of these strategies can lead to a clearer understanding of the origin, evolution and control of viral pathogens. We describe recent progress in identifying important structural and functional domains of the RNA genomes and associated replicative enzymes for two very different viruses: vesicular stomatitis virus, which possesses a single-stranded RNA genome of negative polarity, and wound tumor virus, which contains a genome composed of 12 discrete segments of double-stranded RNA.