An Escherichia coli mutant, dnaN59, stops DNA synthesis promptly upon a shift to a high temperature; the wild-type dnaN gene carried in a transducing phage encodes a polypeptide of about 41,000 daltons [Sakakibara, Y. & Mizukami, T. (1980) Mol. Gen. Genet. 178, 541-553; Yuasa, S. & Sakakibara, Y. (1980) Mol. Gen. Genet. 180, 267-273]. We now find that the product of dnaN gene is the beta subunit of DNA polymerase III holoenzyme, the principal DNA synthetic multipolypeptide complex in E. coli. The conclusion is based on the following observations: (i) Extracts from dnaN59 cells were defective in phage phi X174 and G4 DNA synthesis after the mutant cells had been exposed to the increased temperature. (ii) The enzymatic defect was overcome by addition of purified beta subunit but not by other subunits of DNA polymerase III holoenzyme or by other replication proteins required for phi X174 DNA synthesis. (iii) Partially purified beta subunit from the dnaN mutant, unlike that from the wild type, was inactive in reconstituting the holoenzyme when mixed with the other purified subunits. (iv) Increased dosage of the dnaN gene provided by a plasmid carrying the gene raised cellular levels of the beta subunit 5- to 6-fold.