The theta subunit (holE gene product) of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase (Pol) III holoenzyme is a tightly bound component of the polymerase core. Within the core (alpha-epsilon-theta), the alpha and epsilon subunits carry the DNA polymerase and 3' proofreading functions, respectively, while the precise function of theta is unclear. holE homologs are present in genomes of other enterobacteriae, suggestive of a conserved function. Putative homologs have also been found in the genomes of bacteriophage P1 and of certain conjugative plasmids. The presence of these homologs is of interest, because these genomes are fully dependent on the host replication machinery and contribute few, if any, replication factors themselves. To study the role of these theta homologs, we have constructed an E. coli strain in which holE is replaced by the P1 homolog, hot. We show that hot is capable of substituting for holE when it is assayed for its antimutagenic action on the proofreading-impaired dnaQ49 mutator, which carries a temperature-sensitive epsilon subunit. The ability of hot to substitute for holE was also observed with other, although not all, dnaQ mutator alleles tested. The data suggest that the P1 hot gene product can substitute for the theta subunit and is likely incorporated in the Pol III complex. We also show that overexpression of either theta or Hot further suppresses the dnaQ49 mutator phenotype. This suggests that the complexing of dnaQ49-epsilon with theta is rate limiting for its ability to proofread DNA replication errors. The possible role of hot for bacteriophage P1 is discussed.