We have identified a T7 RNA polymerase (RNAP) mutant that efficiently utilizes deoxyribonucleoside triphosphates. In vitro this mutant will synthesize RNA, DNA or 'transcripts' of mixed dNMP/rNMP composition depending on the mix of NTPs present in the synthesis reaction. The mutation is conservative, changes Tyr639 within the active site to phenylalanine and does not affect promoter specificity or overall activity. Non-conservative mutations of this tyrosine also reduce discrimination between deoxyribo- and ribonucleoside triphosphates, but these mutations also cause large activity reductions. Of 26 mutations of other residues in and around the active site examined none showed marked effects on rNTP/dNTP discrimination. Mutations of the corresponding tyrosine in DNA polymerase (DNAP) I increase miscoding, though effects on dNTP/rNTP discrimination for the DNAP I mutations have not been reported. This conserved tyrosine may therefore play a similar role in many polymerases by sensing incorrect geometry in the structure of the substrate/template/product due to inappropriate substrate structure or mismatches. T7 RNAP can use RNA templates as well as DNA templates and is capable of both primer extension and de novo initiation. The Y639F mutant retains the ability to use RNA or DNA templates. Thus this mutant can display de novo initiated or primed DNA-directed DNA polymerase, reverse transcriptase, RNA-directed RNA polymerase or DNA-directed RNA polymerase activities depending simply on the templates and substrates presented to it in the synthesis reaction.