Gene A of the phi X174 genome codes for two proteins, A and A* (Linney, E.A., and Hayashi, M.N. (1973) Nature New Biol. 245, 6-8) of molecular weights 60,000 and 35,000, respectively. The phi X A* protein is formed from a natural internal initiator site within the A gene cistron while the phi X A protein is the product of the entire A gene. These two proteins have been purified to homogeneity as judged by sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Previous studies have shown that the phi X A protein is an endonuclease which specifically introduces a discontinuity in the A cistron of the viral strand of supertwisted phi XRFI DNA. In addition to this activity, the phi X A protein also causes relaxation of supertwisted phi XRFI DNA and formation of a phi XRFH DNA . phi X A protein complex which has a discontinuity in the A cistron of the viral strand. This isolatable complex supports DNA synthesis when supplemented with extracts of uninfected Escherichia coli which lack phi X A protein and phi XRFI DNA. The phi XRFII DNA . phi X A protein complex can be attacked by exonuclease III but is not susceptible to attack by E. coli DNA polymerase I, indicating that the 5'-end of the complex is blocked. Attempts to seal the RFII structure generated from the phi XRFII DNA . phi X A protein complex with T4 DNA ligase in the presence or absence of DNA polymerase were unsuccessful. The phi X A protein does not act catalytically in the cleavage of phi XRFI DNA. Under conditions leading to the quantitative cleavage of phi XRFI DNA, the molar ratio of phi XRFI DNA to added phi X A protein was approximately 1:10. At this molar ratio, cross-linking experiments with dimethyl suberimidate yielded 10 distinct protein bands which were multiples of the monomeric phi X A protein. In the absence of DNA or in the presence of inactive DNA (phi XRFII DNA) no distinct protein bands above a trimer were detected. We found it possible in vitro to form a phi XRFII DNA . phi X A protein complex with wild-type phi XRFI DNA (phi X A gene+) and with phi XRFI DNA isolated from E. coli (su+) infected with phage phi X H90 (an am mutant in the phi X A gene). Thus, in vitro, in contrast to in vivo studies, phi X A protein is not a cis acting protein. The purified phi X A* protein does not substitute for the phi X A protein in in vitro replication of phi XRFI DNA nor does it interfere with the action of the phi X A protein which binds only to supertwisted phi XRFI DNA. In contrast, the phi X A* protein binds to all duplex DNA preparations tested. This property prevents nucleases of E. coli from hydrolyzing duplex DNAs to small molecular weight products.