Microcin B17 is a novel peptide antibiotic of low Mr (about 4000) produced by Escherichia coli strains carrying plasmid pMccB17. The action of this microcin in sensitive cells is essentially irreversible, follows single-hit kinetics, and leads to an abrupt arrest of DNA replication and, consequently, to the induction of the SOS response. RecA- and RecBC- strains are hypersensitive to microcin B17. Strains producing a non-cleavable SOS repressor (lexAl mutant) are also more sensitive than wild-type, whereas strains carrying a mutation which causes constitutive expression of the SOS response (spr-55) are less sensitive to microcin. Microcin B17 does not induce the SOS response in cells which do not have an active replication fork. The results suggest that the mode of action of this microcin is different from all other well-characterized microcins and colicins, and from other antibiotics which inhibit DNA replication.