DNA polymerase III (polIII) holoenzyme of Escherichia coli has 3'----5' exonuclease ("editing") activity in addition to its polymerase activity, a property shared by other prokaryotic DNA polymerases. The polymerization activity is carried by the large alpha subunit, the product of the dnaE gene. Mutations affecting the fidelity of DNA replication in vivo and the activity of 3'----5' exonuclease assayed in vitro are found in the dnaQ gene, which specifies the epsilon subunit. To determine whether epsilon carries the 3'----5' exonuclease activity, we have used an overproduction protocol to purify epsilon separately from the other subunits of polIII holoenzyme. We find that epsilon has 3'----5' exonuclease activity indistinguishable from that of polIII core, the subassembly of polIII holoenzyme consisting of the alpha, epsilon, and theta subunits. We conclude that the editing and polymerization activities of polIII holoenzyme reside on distinct subunits, in contrast to DNA polymerase I of E. coli and DNA polymerase of phage T4. This functional separation may provide for regulation of exonucleolytic editing independently of polymerization, allowing cellular control of replication fidelity.