The dnaZ protein has been purified to near-homogeneity using an in vitro complementation assay that measures the restoration of activity in a crude enzyme fraction from the dnaZ mutant deficient in the replication of phi X174 DNA. Over 70-fold overproduction of the protein was obtained with a bacteriophage lambda lysogen carrying the dnaZ gene. The purified protein, under reducing and denaturing conditions, has a molecular weight of 52,000 and appears to be a dimer in its native form. The dnaZ protein is judged to be th 52,000-dalton gamma subunit of DNA polymerase III holoenzyme (McHenry, C., and Kornberg, A. (1977) J. Biol. Chem. 252, 6478-6484) for the following reasons: (i) highly purified DNA polymerase III holoenzyme contains a 52,000-dalton polypeptide and has dnaZ-complementing activity; (ii) the 52,000-dalton polypeptide is associated tightly with the DNA polymerase III holoenzyme and can be separated from the DNA polymerase III core only with severe measures; (iii) no other purified replication protein, among 14 tested, contains dnaZ protein activity; and (iv) the abundance of dnaZ protein, estimated at about 10 dimer molecules per Escherichia coli cell, is similar to that of the DNA polymerase III core. Among several circular templates tested in vitro (i.e. single stranded phi X174, G4 and M13 DNAs, and duplex phi X174 DNA), all rely on dnaZ protein for elongation by DNA polymerase III holoenzyme. The protein acts catalytically at a stoichiometry of one dimer per template.