The genomes of bacteriophages T4 and RB69 are phylogenetically related but diverge in nucleotide sequence at many loci and are incompatible with each other in vivo. We describe here the biological implications of divergence in a genomic segment that encodes four essential DNA replication proteins: gp45 (sliding clamp), gp44/62 complex (clamp loader), and gp46 (a recombination protein). We have cloned, sequenced, and expressed several overlapping segments of the RB69 gene 46-45.2-(rpbA)-45-44-62 cluster and compared its features to those of the homologous gene cluster from T4. The deduced primary structures of all four RB69 replication proteins and gp45.2 from this cluster are very similar (80 to 95% similarity) to those of their respective T4 homologs. In contrast, the rpbA region (which encodes a nonessential protein in T4) is highly diverged (approximately 49% similarity) between the two phage genomes and does not encode protein in RB69. Expression studies and patterns of high divergence of intercistronic nucleotide sequences of this cluster suggest that T4 and RB69 evolved similar transcriptional and translational control strategies for the cistrons contained therein, but with different specificities. In plasmid-phage complementation assays, we show that posttranslationally, RB69 and T4 homologs of gp45 and the gp44/62 complex can be effectively exchanged between the two phage replicase assemblies; however, we also show results which suggest that mixed clamp loader complexes consisting of T4 gp62 and RB69 gp44 subunits are not active for phage DNA replication. Thus, specificity of the gp44-gp62 interaction in the clamp loader marks a point of departure between the T4 and RB69 replication systems.