Rad51p, the eukaryotic homolog of the prokaryotic recA protein, catalyzes strand exchange between single- and double-stranded DNA and is involved in both genetic recombination and double-strand break repair in the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila. We have previously shown that disruption of the Tetrahymena RAD51 somatic macronuclear locus leads to defective germline micronuclear division and that conjugation of two somatic rad51 null strains results in an early meiotic arrest. We have constructed Tetrahymena strains that are capable of RAD51 expression from their parental macronuclei and are homozygous, rad51 nulls in their germline micronuclei. These rad51 null heterokaryons complete all of the early and middle stages of conjugation, including meiosis, haploid nuclear exchange, zygotic fusion, and the programmed chromosome fragmentations, sequence eliminations, and rDNA amplification that occur during macronuclear development. However, the rad51 null progeny fail to initiate the first vegetative cell division following conjugal development. Coincident with the developmental arrest is a disproportionate amplification of rDNA, despite the maintenance of normal total DNA content in the developing macronuclei. Fusion of arrested rad51 null exconjugants to wild-type cells is sufficient to overcome the arrest. Cells rescued by cytoplasmic fusion continue to divide, eventually recapitulating the micronuclear mitotic defects described previously for rad51 somatic nulls.