The 3' telomere of the linear single-stranded DNA genome of minute virus of mice (MVM), a murine parvovirus, can assume a complex hairpin structure. This contains a stem in which there is a mismatched 'bubble' sequence where a GA doublet opposes a GAA triplet. During replication, this hairpin is copied to form an imperfect palindrome which bridges adjacent genomes in a dimer duplex intermediate, leaving the two 'bubble' sequences embedded in potential replication origins on either side of the axis of symmetry. Such junctions are resolved asymmetrically in vitro in a DNA synthetic reaction which requires the viral initiator protein NS1. We show that the sequence surrounding the doublet is a potent origin, but the analogous region containing the triplet is completely inactive. The active origin is approximately 50 bp long, extending from an Activated Transcription Factor binding site at one end to a position some 7 bp beyond the major initiation site, to which NS1 ultimately becomes covalently attached. The actual sequence of the GA doublet is unimportant, but insertion of any third nucleotide here inactivates the origin, indicating that it represents a critical spacer element. Segregation of this asymmetry, therefore, allows the virus to confine replication initiation to one particular telomeric configuration.