After cDNA cloning of the genome of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) isolate CP7, a full-length cDNA clone was constructed. RNA transcribed in vitro from this construct was shown to direct the generation of infectious BVDV upon transfection into bovine cells. To confirm the de novo generation of infectious BVDV from cloned cDNA a genetically tagged virus was constructed. In comparison with parental BVDV, the recombinant virus was slightly retarded in growth. The NS2 coding region of the CP7 genome contains a duplication of 27 nucleotides which is not present in the genome of its noncytopathogenic counterpart, NCP7. Exchange of a small fragment harboring this insertion against the corresponding part of the NCP7 sequence led to recovery of noncytopathogenic BVDV. Alteration of the construct by introduction of a fragment derived from a cytopathogenic BVDV defective interfering particle resulted in a chimeric defective interfering particle which exhibits a cytopathogenic phenotype. These findings confirm the hypothesis that the recombination-induced alterations in the genomes of cytopathogenic BVDV are responsible for the induction of cell lysis.