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Using end-labelled RNA, significant changes in base specificity of three nucleases have been detected under defined conditions. Staphylococcus aureus nuclease at pH 3.5 without Ca++ cleaves all Pyr-N bonds more uniformly and efficiently than RNase A, without any preference for Pyr-A bonds. At pH 7.5 in 10 mM Ca++ this enzyme cleaves all N-C and N-G bonds slowly, whereas N-U and N-A bonds are hydrolyzed rapidly. Hence, the base at the 3'- or at the 5'-side of a phosphodiester bond can determine the base specificity of S. aureus nuclease. - In absence of urea, Neurospora crassa endonuclease cleaves all phosphodiester bonds, but leaves all C-N bonds intact in 7 M urea. - RNase U2 at pH 3.5 cleaves A-N bonds more efficiently than at pH 5.0.