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Mol Microbiol. 2008 Nov;70(3):549-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2008.06434.x. Epub 2008 Sep 12.

A shifty stop for a hairy tail.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY 13210 USA.


The tail apparatus of the bacteriophage SPP1 is an extraordinary approximately 1600-A-long molecular machine. The tail mediates attachment of the virus to the host surface receptor, as well-as ejection of the viral genome into the host. The distal tip of the tail binds the extracellular ectodomain of the Bacillus subtilis receptor YueB, while the tail tube provides a conduit to funnel the viral genome into the host. This process, which culminates with the ejection of the approximately 44 kb of viral DNA across the thick, cell envelope of the Gram-positive bacterial cell, takes place in a time scale of seconds to minutes and represents a remarkable example of biotransformation. In this issue of Molecular Microbiology, Auzat et al. provide compelling evidence that the two major structural proteins of the SPP1 tail, gp17.1 (approximately 19.1 kDa) and gp17.1* (approximately 28 kDa), share a common N-terminal sequence, and that gp17.1* is generated by a translational frameshift in the gene 17.1. The extra domain fused to gp17.1* is synthesized by a +1 programmed translational frameshift at the end of gene 17.1, which leads to the synthesis of approximately one gp17.1* for every three equivalents of gp17.1. This finding extends our current knowledge of translational frameshifts and provides a framework to understand how Siphoviridae phages like SPP1 have developed long-tail machines using only two major structural proteins.

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