Shope fibroma virus and myxoma virus encode proteins predicted to be Type II photolyases. These are enzymes that catalyze light-dependent repair of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs). When the Shope fibroma virus S127L gene was expressed in an Escherichia coli strain lacking functional CPD repair pathways, the expressed gene protected the bacteria from 70-75% of the ultraviolet (UV) light-induced cytotoxic DNA damage. This proportion suggests that Leporipoxvirus photolyases can only repair CPDs, which typically comprise approximately 70% of the damage caused by short wavelength UV light. To test whether these enzymes can protect virus genomes from UV, we exposed virus suspensions to UV-C light followed by graded exposure to filtered visible light. Viruses encoding a deletion of the putative photolyase gene were unable to photoreactivate UV damage while this treatment again eliminated 70-90% of the lethal photoproducts in wild-type viruses. Western blotting detected photolyase protein in extracts prepared from purified virions and it can be deduced that the poxvirion interior must be fluid enough to permit diffusion of this approximately 50-kDa DNA-binding protein to the sites where it catalyzes photoreactivation. Photolyase promoters are difficult to categorize using bioinformatics methods, as they do not obviously resemble any of the known poxvirus promoter motifs. By fusing the SFV promoter to DNA encoding a luciferase open reading frame, the photolyase promoter was found to exhibit very weak late promoter activity. These data show that the genomes of Leporipoxviruses, similar to that of fowlpox virus, encode catalytically active photolyases. Phylogenetic studies also confirmed the monophyletic origin of poxviruses and suggest an ancient origin for these genes and perhaps poxviruses.