Phage phi 29 terminal protein, p3, essentially pure, was isolated in a denatured form from viral particles, and anti-p3 antiserum was obtained. A radioimmunoassay to detect and quantitate protein p3 was developed. By using this assay, native protein p3 was highly purified from Escherichia coli cells harboring a gene 3-containing recombinant plasmid. After three purification steps, the protein was more than 96% pure; its amino acid composition was very similar to that deduced from the nucleotide sequence of gene 3. The purified protein was active in the formation of the covalent p3-dAMP initiation complex when supplemented with extracts of B. subtilis infected with a sus mutant of phi 29 in gene 3. No DNA polymerase or ATPase activities were present in the final preparation of protein p3.