RecQ helicase is important to homologous recombination and DNA repair in Escherichia coli. We demonstrate that RecQ helicase, in conjunction with RecA and SSB proteins, can initiate recombination events in vitro. In addition, RecQ protein is capable of unwinding a wide variety of DNA substrates, including joint molecules formed by RecA protein. These data are consistent with RecQ helicase assuming two roles in the cell; it can be (1) an initiator of homologous recombination, or (2) a disrupter of joint molecules formed by aberrant recombination. These findings also shed light on the function of the eukaryotic homologs of RecQ helicase, the Sgs1, Blm, and Wrn helicases.