Crude extracts of Escherichia coli selectively convert fd viral DNA and not phiX174 DNA to duplex DNA via a complex series of reactions one of which involves RNA polymerase. Reactions leading to formation of fd duplex-replicative (RFII) structures have been reconstituted with purified proteins from E. coli. Maximal synthesis requires the combined action of E. coli binding protein, DNA elongation factor I, DNA elongation factor II preparations (which are a mixture of dna Z and DNA elongation factor III), DNA polymerase III, DNA-dependent RNA polymerase, Mg2+, dATP, dGTP, dCTP, dTTP, and ATP, GTP, CTP, and UTP. In contrast to crude extracts of E. coli, purified protein fractions do not distinguish between fd DNA and phiX174 DNA in duplex DNA formation. The addition of crude fractions of E. coli to the purified components listed above selectively permits fd RFII formation and prevents phiX RFII formation. This selective inhibition was used as an assay to isolate proteins essential for this phenomenon; they include RNase H, discriminatory factor alpha, and discriminatory factor beta.