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J Virol. Apr 1992; 66(4): 2435–2442.
PMCID: PMC289039

Reversion of Q beta RNA phage mutants by homologous RNA recombination.


Q beta phage RNAs with inactivating insertion (8-base) or deletion (17-base) mutations within their replicase genes were prepared from modified Q beta cDNAs and transfected into Escherichia coli spheroplasts containing Q beta replicase provided in trans by a resident plasmid. Replicase-defective (Rep-) Q beta phage produced by these spheroplasts were detected as normal-sized plaques on lawns of cells containing plasmid-derived Q beta replicase, but were unable to form plaques on cells lacking this plasmid. When individual Rep- phage were isolated and grown to high titer in cells containing plasmid-derived Q beta replicase, revertant (Rep+) Q beta phage were obtained at a frequency of ca. 10(-8). To investigate the mechanism of this reversion, a point mutation was placed into the plasmid-derived Q beta replicase gene by site-directed mutagenesis. Q beta mutants amplified on cells containing the resultant plasmid also yielded Rep+ revertants. Genomic RNA was isolated from several of the latter phage revertants and sequenced. Results showed that the original mutation (insertion or deletion) was no longer present in the phage revertants but that the marker mutation placed into the plasmid was now present in the genomic RNAs, indicating that recombination was one mechanism involved in the reversion of the Q beta mutants. Further experiments demonstrated that the 3' noncoding region of the plasmid-derived replicase gene was necessary for the reversion-recombination of the deletion mutant, whereas this region was not required for reversion or recombination of the insertion mutant. Results are discussed in terms of a template-switching model of RNA recombination involving Q beta replicase, the mutant phage genome, and plasmid-derived replicase mRNA.

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