The fidelity of DNA synthesis with purified DNA polymerase alpha and beta from human placenta has been studied. With poly[d(A-T)] as the template-primer and Mg2+ as the metal activator, DNA polymerase alpha incorporates 1 mol of dGMP for every 6,000 to 12,000 mol of complementary nucleotides polymerized. Under the same conditions, DNA polymerase beta is more accurate, the error rate being 1/20,000 to 1/60,000. This greater accuracy of DNA polymerase beta is observed with a variety of homopolymer templates. With both enzymes, substitution of Mg2+ with activating concentrations of Mn2+ or Co2+ enhances the frequency of misincorporation. At greater than activating concentrations of Mn2+ and Co2+, there is an inhibition of complementary nucleotide incorporation, further increasing the frequency of misincorporation. Nearest neighbor analysis of the products synthesized with both enzymes indicates that the noncomplementary nucleotides are incorporated predominantly as single base substitutions. The greater accuracy of DNA polymerase beta over DNA polymerase alpha should be considered in relationship to their possible roles in DNA replication and repair.