Introduction. The family hepadnaviridae at present consists of seven hepatotropic viruses with doublestranded DNA genomes, all of which may cause persistent infections in their natural hosts (Table 1). Hepatitis B virus of man (HBV) was for many years the sole virus recognized in this group. Its identification followed the chance discovery of the so-called ‘Australia antigen’ (Blumberg , 1965) and the subsequent demonstration of the association of this antigen with viral hepatitis B (Blumberg , 1968; Prince, 1968; Okochi & Murakami, 1968). Consequently, this virus has received considerable attention, particularly as an estimated 200 million people are persistently infected with HBV. Many of these individuals are predisposed towards the development of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common cause of neoplasia in many parts of the developing world (Zuckerman, 1982). However, the lack of conventional tissue culture systems has hampered the study of the replication and transformation potential of these viruses.


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