The Saccharomyces cerevisiae RAD51 gene product takes part in genetic recombination and repair of DNA double strand breaks. Rad51, like Escherichia coli RecA, catalyzes strand exchange between homologous circular single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) and linear double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) in the presence of ATP and ssDNA-binding protein. The formation of joint molecules between circular ssDNA and linear dsDNA is initiated at either the 5' or the 3' overhanging end of the complementary strand; joint molecules are formed only if the length of the overhanging end is more than 1 nucleotide. Linear dsDNAs with recessed complementary or blunt ends are not utilized. The polarity of strand exchange depends upon which end is used to initiate the formation of joint molecules. Joint molecules formed via the 5' end are processed by branch migration in the 3'-to-5' direction with respect to ssDNA, and joint molecules formed with a 3' end are processed in the opposite direction.