Nucleic acid polymerases are the most important reagents in biotechnology. Unfortunately, their high substrate specificity severely limits their applications. Polymerases with tailored substrate repertoires would significantly expand their potential and allow enzymatic synthesis of unnatural polymers for in vivo and in vitro applications. For example, the ability to synthesize 2'-O-methyl-modified polymers would provide access to materials possessing properties that make them attractive for biotechnology and therapeutic applications, but unfortunately, no known polymerases are capable of efficiently accepting these modified substrates. To evolve such enzymes, we have developed an activity-based selection method which isolates polymerase mutants with the desired property from libraries of the enzyme displayed on phage. In this report, mutants that could efficiently synthesize an unnatural polymer from 2'-O-methyl ribonucleoside triphosphates were immobilized and isolated by means of their activity-dependent modification of a DNA oligonucleotide primer attached to the same phage particle. In each case, directed evolution resulted in relocating a critical side chain to a different position in the polypeptide, thus re-engineering the overall active site while preserving critical protein-DNA interactions. Remarkably, one evolved polymerase is shown to incorporate the modified substrates with an efficiency and fidelity equivalent to that of the wild-type enzyme with natural substrates.