Telomeric DNA consists of short, tandemly repeated sequences at the ends of chromosomes. Telomeric DNA in the ciliate Paramecium tetraurelia is synthesized by an error-prone telomerase with an RNA template specific for GGGGTT repeats. We have previously shown that misincorporation of TTP residues at the telomerase RNA templating nucleotide C52 accounts for the 30% GGGTTT repeats randomly distributed in wild-type telomeres. To more completely characterize variable repeat synthesis in P tetraurelia, telomerase RNA genes mutated at C52 (A, U, and G) were expressed in vivo. De novo telomeric repeated from transformants indicate that the predominant TTP misincorporation error seen in the wild-type telomerase is dependent on the presence of a C residue at template position 52. Paradoxically, the effects of various other telomerase RNA template and alignment region mutations on de novo telomeres include significant changes in fidelity, as well as the synthesis of aberrant, 5-nucleotide telomeric repeats. The occurrence of deletion error and the altered fidelity of mutated P. tetraurelia telomerase, in conjunction with misincorporation by the wild-type enzyme, suggest that the telomerase RNA template domain may be analogous to homopolymeric mutational hot spots that lead to similar errors by the human immunodeficiency virus proofreading-deficient reverse transcriptase.