Each of the three cysteine residues in the Escherichia coli RecA protein was replaced with a number of other amino acids. To do this, each cysteine codon was first converted to a chain-terminating amber codon by oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis. These amber mutants were then either assayed for function in different suppressor strains or reverted by a second round of mutagenesis with oligonucleotides that had random sequences at the amber codon. Thirty-three different amino acid substitutions were obtained. Mutants were tested for three functions of RecA: survival following UV irradiation, homologous recombination, and induction of the SOS response. It was found that although none of the cysteines is essential for activity, mutations at each of these positions can affect one or more of the activities of RecA, depending on the particular amino acid substitution. In addition, the cysteine at position 116 appears to be involved in the RecA-promoted cleavage of the LexA protein.