The Klenow fragment structure, together with many biochemical experiments, has suggested a region of the protein that may contain the polymerase active site. We have changed 7 amino acid residues within this region by site-directed mutagenesis, yielding 12 mutant proteins which have been purified and analyzed in vitro. The results of steady-state kinetic determinations of Km(dNTP) and kcat for the polymerase reaction, together with measurements of DNA binding affinity, suggest strongly that this study has succeeded in targeting important active site residues. Moreover, the in vitro data allow dissection of the proposed active site region into two clusters of residues that are spatially, as well as functionally, fairly distinct. Mutations in Tyr766, Arg841, and Asn845 cause an increase in Km(dNTP), suggesting that contacts with the incoming dNTP are made in this region. Mutations in the second cluster of residues, Gln849, Arg668, and Asp882, cause a large decrease in kcat, suggesting a role for these residues in catalysis of the polymerase reaction. The DNA-binding properties of mutations at positions 849 and 668 may indicate that the catalytic role of these side chains is associated with their interaction with the DNA substrate. Screening of the mutations in vivo for the classical polA-defective phenotype (sensitivity to DNA damage) demonstrated that a genetic screen of this type may be a reasonable predictor or kcat or of DNA binding affinity in future mutational studies.