We present evidence that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) reverse transcriptase (RT) can substitute for DNA polymerase I in bacteria. Expression of HIV RT enables an Escherichia coli mutant, polA12 recA718, containing a temperature-sensitive mutation in DNA polymerase I, to grow at a nonpermissive temperature. The plasmid pBR322 contains a DNA polymerase I-dependent origin of replication. Expression of HIV RT enables the same E. coli mutant to maintain this plasmid at a nonpermissive temperature. Furthermore, expression of HIV RT in this mutant renders it sensitive to 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine, a commonly used anti-AIDS drug that targets HIV RT. These combined findings on the genetic complementation of DNA polymerase I by HIV RT provide a bacterial assay to screen for drugs directed against HIV RT. Genetic complementation provides a method for positive selection of large numbers of functional HIV RT mutants for studies on structure-function relationships.