Rates of fixation of mutations during the evolution of the foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) C1 in nature have been estimated by hybridization of viral RNA to cloned cDNAs representing defined FMDV genome segments, and comparison of the selected RNAs by T1 RNase oligonucleotide fingerprinting. Values ranged from less than 0.04 X 10(-2) to 4.5 X 10(-2) substitutions per nucleotide per year (s/nt/yr), depending on the time period and the genomic segment considered. Rates for viral structural protein genes were up to sixfold higher than for nonstructural protein genes. Values in excess of 10(-2) s/nt/yr have been measured for the RNA region that encodes VP1-VP3. The nucleotide sequences of the major immunogenic region of capsid protein VP1 have been determined for six new FMDV C1 isolates, and they are compared with the two previously known sequences of FMDV C1 (C-S8 and C1-O). Both oligonucleotide fingerprinting of selected RNA fragments and direct nucleotide sequencing demonstrate that genetic heterogeneity exists among three viruses isolated on the same day, introducing a significant indetermination in the evaluation of fixation rates of mutations. During the FMDV C1 outbreak, amino acid substitutions did occur that are known to affect the immunological properties of the virus. The proportion of mutations between two viral RNAs does not increase significantly with the time elapsed between the two isolations, suggesting a cocirculation of multiple, related, nonidentical FMDVs ('evolving quasispecies') as the mode of evolution of this agent.