The cell lethality and DNA fragmentation caused by phleomycin (PM) were studied in E. coli K12 strains with special reference to the effects of repair or recombination deficiencies and metabolic inhibitors. Unlike excision-defective derivatives of E. coli B, uvrA, uvrB, and uvrC mutants of strain K12 showed no peculiarities compared with wild type in regard to cell survival. Likewise, mutant alleles at uvrD and polA loci had no effect. In contrast, rec mutants were more sensitive to PM-killing than were rec/sup +/ strains. PM-induced strand breakage in DNA was observed in all strains tested including the above-mentioned mutants. There was no significant distinction between the uvr mutants and the wild type strain, indicating that the uvr-endonuclease was not responsible for the strand breaks. Involvement of endonuclease I was also ruled out. At least some of the PM-induced strand breaks were repairable. PM-induced lethality and strand breakage were totally dependent on energy supply. Inhibition of protein synthesis resulted in a partial and parallel suppression of the two effects. Our results suggest that the lethality is due to DNA strand breakage and the repair of such damage is postulated to be controlled by rec genes.