We have used a binary system of replicon-compatible plasmids to test the potential for promiscuous recombination of heavy and light chains within sets of human Fab fragments isolated from combinatorial antibody libraries. Antibody molecules showed a surprising amount of promiscuity in that a particular heavy chain could recombine with multiple light chains with retention of binding to a protein antigen. The degree to which a given heavy chain productively paired with any light chain to bind antigen varied from 43% to 100% and depended strongly on the heavy-chain sequence. Such productive crosses resulted in a set of Fab fragments of similar apparent binding constants, which seemed to differ mainly in the amount of active Fab fragment produced in the bacterial cell. The dominance of the heavy chain in the antibody-antigen interaction was further explored in a set of directed crosses, in which heavy and light chains derived from antigen-specific clones were crossed with nonrelated heavy and light chains. In these crosses, an Fab fragment retained antigen binding only if it contained a heavy chain from an antigen-specific clone. In no case did the light chain confer detectable affinity when paired with indifferent heavy chains. The surprising promiscuity of heavy chains has ramifications for the evaluation of the diversity of combinatorial libraries made against protein antigens and should allow the combination of one such promiscuous heavy chain with an engineered light chain to form an Fab fragment carrying synthetic cofactors to assist in antibody catalysis.