Previous experiments have brought into question which amino acid sequence of the p53 oncogene product should be considered wild type and whether the normal protein is capable of cooperating with the ras oncogene to transform cells in culture. To address these questions, a series of p53 cDNA-genomic hybrid clones have been compared for the ability to cooperate with the ras oncogene in transformation assays. From these experiments, it has become clear that the amino acid alanine at position 135, in either the genomic clone or the cDNA clone, failed to produce a p53 protein that cooperated with the ras oncogene and transformed cells. Replacing alanine with valine at this position in either the genomic or the cDNA clone activated for transformation in this assay. Using restriction enzyme polymorphisms in the p53 gene, it was shown that normal mouse DNA encodes alanine at position 135 in the p53 protein. Thus, mutation is required to activate the p53 protein for cooperation with the ras oncogene. After cotransfection with the activated ras gene, the genomic p53 DNA clone always produced more transformed cell foci (1.7-fold) than similar cDNA clones and these foci were more readily cloned (3.6-fold) into permanent cell lines. A series of deletion mutants of the genomic p53 clone were employed to show that the presence of intron 4 in the p53 gene was sufficient to provide much enhanced clonability of transformed foci from culture dishes. The presence of introns in the p53 gene constructions also resulted in elevated levels of p53 protein in the p53-plus-ras-transformed cell lines. Thus, qualitative changes in the p53 protein are required to activate p53 for transformation with the oncogene ras. Quantitative improvements of transformation frequencies are associated with the higher expression levels of altered p53 protein that are provided by having one of the p53 introns in the transforming plasmid.