The amino acid sequences deduced from the nucleic acid sequences of several animal picornaviruses and cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV), a plant virus, were compared. Good homology was found between CPMV and the picornaviruses in the region of the picornavirus 2C (P2-X protein), VPg, 3C pro (proteinase) and 3D pol (RNA polymerase) regions. The CPMV B genome was found to have a similar gene organization to the picornaviruses. A comparison of the 3C pro (proteinase) regions of all of the available picornavirus sequences and CPMV allowed us to identify residues that are completely conserved; of these only two residues, Cys-147 and His-161 (poliovirus proteinase) could be the reactive residues of the active site of a proteinase with analogous mechanism to a known proteinase. We conclude that the proteinases encoded by these viruses are probably cysteine proteinases, mechanistically related, but not homologous to papain.