The Escherichia coli RecA protein has served as a model for understanding protein-catalyzed homologous recombination, both in vitro and in vivo. Although RecA proteins have now been sequenced from over 60 different bacteria, almost all of our structural knowledge about RecA has come from studies of the E. coli protein. We have used electron microscopy and image analysis to examine three different structures formed by the RecA protein from the thermophilic bacterium Thermus aquaticus. This protein has previously been shown to catalyze an in vitro strand exchange reaction at an optimal temperature of about 60 degrees C. We show that the active filament formed by the T. aquaticus RecA on DNA in the presence of a nucleotide cofactor is extremely similar to the filament formed by the E. coli protein, including the extension of DNA to a 5.1-A rise per base pair within this filament. This parameter appears highly conserved through evolution, as it has been observed for the eukaryotic RecA analogs as well. We have also characterized bundles of filaments formed by the T. aquaticus RecA in the absence of both DNA and nucleotide cofactor, as well as hexameric rings of the protein formed under all conditions examined. The bundles display a very large plasticity of mass within the RecA filament, as well as showing a polymorphism in filament-filament contacts that may be important to understanding mutations that affect surface residues on the RecA filament.