Hybrid adenovirus type 12 (Ad12)/Ad5 E1A genes were constructed by homologous recombination in Escherichia coli, a technique which offers several advantages over conventional mutagenesis for genetic analysis of proteins. In particular, functional differences between the proteins can be mapped by correlating the replacement of specific sequences with the acquisition of new properties, and there is no requirement for common unique restriction sites or polymerase chain reaction strategies to construct the hybrids. Recombinant adenoviruses expressing these hybrid E1A proteins were capable of replicating efficiently in HeLa cells, with the exception of one construct which contained a hybrid transactivation domain. The transforming activity of the hybrid E1A constructs was assayed by DNA transfection of primary baby rat kidney cells. Plasmids containing Ad12 E1 were approximately 20-fold less efficient at transformation than those with E1 of Ad5, and it was found that two regions in exon 1 of E1A mediate this difference. No differences were found in the abilities of any hybrid E1A proteins to bind to cellular proteins previously determined to be important for transformation by E1A.