A Lys-84----Cys mutant staphylococcal nuclease was selectively linked to the 5' and/or 3' terminus of a thiol-containing polypyrimidine oligonucleotide via a disulfide bond. The oligonucleotide-staphylococcal nuclease adduct is capable of binding to a homopurine-homopyrimidine region of Watson-Crick duplex DNA by the formation of a triple-helical structure. Upon the addition of Ca2+, the nuclease cleaves DNA at sites adjacent to the homopurine tract. Specific double-strand cleavage occurred predominantly at A + T-rich sites to the 5' side of the homopurine tract for both the 5'-derivatized and the 5',3'-diderivatized nucleases; the 3'-derivatized nuclease gave no cleavage. The cleavage pattern is asymmetric and consists of multiple cleavage sites shifted to the 5' side on each strand, centered at the terminal base pair of the binding site. Microgram amounts of plasmid pDP20 DNA (4433 base pairs) containing a homopurine-homopyrimidine tract were selectively cleaved by a semisynthetic nuclease with greater than 75% efficiency at room temperature within 1 hr. Cleavage reaction conditions were optimized with respect to pH, temperature, reaction times, and reaction components. Semisynthetic nucleases of this type should provide a powerful tool in chromosomal DNA manipulations.