Escherichia coli RNA polymerase (EC 126.96.36.199), bound in a tight complex at an early T7 promoter, protects 41 to 43 base pairs of DNA from digestion by DNase. I. The protected DNA fragment contains both the binding site for RNA polymerase and the mRNA initiation point for the promoter. The sequence of the DNA fragment and the sequence of the mRNA that it codes for are presented here. A seven-base-pair sequence, apparently common to all promoters, is implicated in the formation of a tight binary complex with RNA polymerase.