We have studied the clonogenic survival response to X-rays and MNNG of V79 Chinese hamster cells and two derivative cell lines, ADPRT54 and ADPRT351, deficient in poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) activity. Under conditions of exponential growth, both PARP-deficient cell lines are hypersensitive to X-rays and MNNG compared to their parental V79 cells. In contrast, under growth-arrested, confluent conditions, V79 and PARP-deficient cells become similarly sensitive to X-rays and MNNG suggesting that PARP may be involved in the repair of X-ray or MNNG-induced DNA damage in logarithmically growing cells but not in growth-arrested confluent cells. This suggestion, however, creates a dilemma as to how PARP can be involved in DNA repair in only selected growth phases while it is functionally active in all growth phases. To explain these paradoxical results and resolve this dilemma we propose a hypothesis based on the consistent observation that inhibition of PARP results in a significant increase in sister chromatid exchange (SCEs). Thus, we propose that PARP is a guardian of the genome that protects against DNA recombination. We have extended this theme to provide an explanation for our results and the studies done by many others.