The vaccinia virus I3L gene encodes a single-stranded DNA binding protein (SSB) that is essential for virus DNA replication and is conserved in all Chordopoxviruses. The I3 protein contains a negatively charged C-terminal tail that is a common feature of SSBs. Such acidic tails are critical for SSB-dependent replication, recombination and repair. We cloned and purified variants of the I3 protein, along with a homolog from molluscum contagiosum virus, and tested how the acidic tail affected DNA-protein interactions. Deleting the C terminus of I3 enhanced the affinity for single-stranded DNA cellulose and gel shift analyses showed that it also altered the migration of I3-DNA complexes in agarose gels. Microinjecting an antibody against I3 into vaccinia-infected cells also selectively inhibited virus replication. We suggest that this domain promotes cooperative binding of I3 to DNA in a way that would maintain an open DNA configuration around a replication site.