The design of vaccines against viral disease has evolved considerably over the past 50 years. Live attenuated viruses (LAVs)-those created by passaging a virus in cultured cells-have proven to be an effective means for preventing many viral diseases, including smallpox, polio, measles, mumps and yellow fever. Even so, empirical attenuation is unreliable in some cases and LAVs pose several safety issues. Although inactivated viruses and subunit vaccines alleviate many of these concerns, they have in general been less efficacious than their LAV counterparts. Advances in molecular virology--creating deleterious gene mutations, altering replication fidelity, deoptimizing codons and exerting control by microRNAs or zinc finger nucleases--are providing new ways of controlling viral replication and virulence and renewing interest in LAV vaccines. Whereas these rationally attenuated viruses may lead to a new generation of safer, more widely applicable LAV vaccines, each approach requires further testing before progression to human testing.