The gene 4 protein of bacteriophage T7 recognizes specific sequences on single-stranded DNA and then catalyzes the synthesis of tetraribonucleotide primers complementary to the template. With phi X174 DNA as a template, the gene 4 protein enables T7 DNA polymerase (deoxynucleosidetriphosphate:DNA deoxynucleotidyltransferase, EC 220.127.116.11) to initiate DNA synthesis at 13 major sites. DNA sequence analysis of the 5' termini of the newly synthesized DNA shows the predominant recognition sequences for the gene 4 protein to be 3'-C-T-G-G-G-5' or 3'-C-T-G-G-T-5'; the products of synthesis at these sites are RNA primers having the sequences pppA-C-C-C or pppA-C-C-A. The gene 4 protein can also synthesize primers at the sequences 3'-C-T-G-G-AC-5' and 3'-C-T-G-T-N-5', although these sites are used less than 10% as frequently as the predominant sites. Comparison of the utilization of primer sites suggests that the gene 4 protein binds randomly to single-stranded DNA and then translocates along the DNA in a unidirectional 5'-to-3' direction with regard to the DNA strand in search of recognition sequences. Models are presented for the role of the gene 4 protein in the initiation of lagging-strand synthesis and in the initiation of DNA replication at the origin.