We used quantitative complementation assays to characterize individual DNA polymerase beta (Pol beta) mutants for their ability to function in DNA replication and DNA repair. We also describe a screen for detecting mutator activity of DNA polymerase beta mutants. By using these bioassays, together with DNA polymerase activity gels, we characterized 15 new DNA polymerase beta mutants that display a wide spectrum of phenotypes. Most of these mutants are generally defective in their ability to synthesize DNA. However, two of our Pol beta mutants show more complex phenotypes: they are able to function in DNA repair but unable to participate in DNA replication. One of our mutants displays mutator activity in vivo. Our work provides a model to study mutant mammalian enzymes in Escherichia coli with phenotypes that are otherwise difficult to assess.