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In this paper we show that a 211-base pair segment of CEN3 DNA is sufficient to confer wild-type centromere function in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We used site-directed mutagenesis of the 211-base pair fragment to examine the sequence-specific functional requirements of a conserved 11-base pair segment of centromere DNA, element III (5'-TGATTTATCCGAA-3'). Element III is the most highly conserved of the centromeric DNA sequences, differing by only a single adenine X thymine base pair among the four centromere DNAs sequenced thus far. All of the element III sequences contain specific cytosine X guanine base pairs, including a 5'-CCG-3' arrangement, which we targeted for single cytosine-to-thymine mutations by using sodium bisulfite. The effects of element III mutations on plasmid and chromosome segregation were determined by mitotic stability assays. Conversion of CCG to CTG completely abolished centromere function both in plasmids and in chromosome III, whereas conversion of CCG to TCG decreased plasmid and chromosome stability moderately. The other two guanine X cytosine base pairs in element III could be independently converted to adenine X thymine base pairs without affecting plasmid or chromosome stability. We concluded that while some specific nucleotides within the conserved element III sequence are essential for proper centromere function, other conserved nucleotides can be changed.