The mechanism of recombination of tandem repeats in the chromosome of Escherichia coli was investigated by genetic means. Tandem repeats 624 bp long were introduced into the lacZ gene of E. coli and the efficiency of deletion of one repeat was compared in different recombination mutants. No effects of the recA, recBC, recF, ruvA or ruvA recG mutations were detected. Hence, tandem repeat deletion appears to not proceed via the RecBCD or RecF homologous recombination pathways. A new mutant in which RecA-independent recombination is increased 15-fold was isolated. The mutation lies in the dnaE gene coding for the alpha subunit of polymerase III: it is a Gly to Asp change at codon 133. Another dnaE mutation, dnaE486, was tested and also shown to stimulate RecA-independent recombination. It is proposed that tandem-repeat recombination occurs by a replication slippage mechanism. RecA-independent recombination is also enhanced in a rep mutant, in which chromosomal replication is slowed down by the absence of the Rep helicase, suggesting that replication pausing may facilitate slippage.