Gene 2.5 of bacteriophage T7 encodes a single-stranded DNA-binding protein that is essential for viral survival. Its crystal structure reveals a conserved oligosaccharide/oligonucleotide binding fold predicted to interact with single-stranded DNA. However, there is no experimental evidence to support this hypothesis. Recently, we reported a genetic screen for lethal mutations in gene 2.5 that we are using to identify functional domains of the gene 2.5 protein. This screen uncovered a number of mutations that led to amino acid substitutions in the proposed DNA binding domain. Three variant proteins, gp2.5-Y158C, gp2.5-K152E, and gp2.5-Y111C/Y158C, exhibit a decrease in binding affinity for oligonucleotides. A fourth, gp2.5-K109I, exhibits an altered mode of binding single-stranded DNA. A carboxyl-terminal truncation of gene 2.5 protein, gp2.5-Delta26C, binds single-stranded DNA 10-fold more tightly than the wild-type protein. The three altered proteins defective in single-stranded DNA binding cannot mediate the annealing of homologous DNA, whereas gp2.5-Delta26C mediates the reaction more effectively than does wild-type. Gp2.5-K109I retains this annealing ability, albeit slightly less efficiently. With the exception of gp2.5-Delta26C, all variant proteins form dimers in solution and physically interact with T7 DNA polymerase.