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Biophys J. 2005 Feb;88(2):851-66. Epub 2004 Nov 19.

Forces during bacteriophage DNA packaging and ejection.

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Division of Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.

Erratum in

  • Biophys J. 2007 Jul 15;93(2):705.


The conjunction of insights from structural biology, solution biochemistry, genetics, and single-molecule biophysics has provided a renewed impetus for the construction of quantitative models of biological processes. One area that has been a beneficiary of these experimental techniques is the study of viruses. In this article we describe how the insights obtained from such experiments can be utilized to construct physical models of processes in the viral life cycle. We focus on dsDNA bacteriophages and show that the bending elasticity of DNA and its electrostatics in solution can be combined to determine the forces experienced during packaging and ejection of the viral genome. Furthermore, we quantitatively analyze the effect of fluid viscosity and capsid expansion on the forces experienced during packaging. Finally, we present a model for DNA ejection from bacteriophages based on the hypothesis that the energy stored in the tightly packed genome within the capsid leads to its forceful ejection. The predictions of our model can be tested through experiments in vitro where DNA ejection is inhibited by the application of external osmotic pressure.

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