The 10 distinctive polypeptides of DNA polymerase III holoenzyme, purified as individual subunits or complexes, could be reconstituted to generate a polymerase with the high catalytic rate of the isolated intact holoenzyme. Functions and interactions of the subunits can be inferred from partial assemblies of the pol III core (alpha, epsilon, and theta subunits) with auxiliary subunits. The core possesses the polymerase and proofreading activities; the auxiliary subunits provide the core with processivity, the capacity to replicate long stretches of DNA without dissociating from the template. In a sequence of reconstruction steps, the beta subunit binds the primed template in an ATP-dependent manner through the catalytic action of a complex made up of the gamma, delta, delta', chi, and psi polypeptides. With the beta subunit in place, a processive polymerase is produced upon addition of the core. When the tau subunit is lacking, binding of polymerase to the primed template is less efficient and stable. The tau-less reconstituted polymerase is more prone to dissociation upon encountering secondary structures in the template in its path, such as a hairpin region in the single strand or a duplex region formed by a strand annealed to the template. With the tau subunit present, the interaction of the core.beta complex (the basic unit of a processive polymerase) with the primed template is strengthened. The tau-containing reconstituted polymerase can replicate DNA continuously through secondary structures in the template. The two distinctive kinds of processivity demonstrated by the tau-less and tau-containing reconstituted polymerases fit nicely into a scheme in which, organized as an asymmetric dimeric holoenzyme, the tau half is responsible for continuous synthesis of one strand, and the less stable half for discontinuous synthesis of the other.