It has been reported that the propagation of African swine fever virus (ASFV) in cell culture generates viral subpopulations differing in protein p54 (C. Alcaraz, A. Brun, F. Ruiz-Gonzalvo, and J. M. Escribano, Virus Res. 23:173-182, 1992). A recombinant bacteriophage expressing a 328-bp fragment of the p54 gene was selected in a lambda phage expression library of ASFV genomic fragments by immunoscreening with antibodies against p54 protein. The sequence of this recombinant phage allowed the location of the p54 gene in the EcoRI E fragment of the ASFV genome. Nucleotide sequence obtained from this fragment revealed an open reading frame encoding a protein of 183 amino acids with a calculated molecular weight of 19,861. This protein contains a transmembrane domain and a Gly-Gly-X motif, a recognition sequence for protein processing of several ASFV structural proteins. In addition, two direct tandem repetitions were also found within this open reading frame. Further characterization of the transcription and gene product revealed that the p54 gene is translated from a late mRNA and the protein is incorporated to the external membrane of the virus particle. A comparison of the nucleotide sequence of the p54 gene carried by two virulent ASFV strains (E70 and E75) with that obtained from virus Ba71V showed 100% similarity. However, when p54 genes from viral clones generated by cell culture passage and coding for p54 proteins with different electrophoretic mobility were sequenced, they showed changes in the number of copies of a 12-nucleotide sequence repeat. These changes produce alterations in the number of copies of the amino acid sequence Pro-Ala-Ala-Ala present in p54, resulting in stepwise modifications in the molecular weight of the protein. These duplications and deletions of a tandem repeat sequence array within a protein coding region constitute a novel mechanism of genetic diversification in ASFV.