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Science. 1987 May 8;236(4802):690-4.

A small viral RNA is required for in vitro packaging of bacteriophage phi 29 DNA.


A small RNA of Bacillus subtilis bacteriophage phi 29 is shown to have a novel and essential role in viral DNA packaging in vitro. This requirement for RNA in the encapsidation of viral DNA provides a new dimension of complexity to the attendant protein-DNA interactions. The RNA is a constituent of the viral precursor shell of the DNA-packaging machine but is not a component of the mature virion. Studies of the sequential interactions involving this RNA molecule are likely to provide new insight into the structural and possible catalytic roles of small RNA molecules. The phi 29 assembly in extracts and phi 29 DNA packaging in the defined in vitro system were strongly inhibited by treatment with the ribonucleases A or T1. However, phage assembly occurred normally in the presence of ribonuclease A that had been treated with a ribonuclease inhibitor. An RNA of approximately 120 nucleotides co-purified with the phi 29 precursor protein shell (prohead), and this particle was the target of ribonuclease action. Removal of RNA from the prohead by ribonuclease rendered it inactive for DNA packaging. By RNA-DNA hybridization analysis, the RNA was shown to originate from a viral DNA segment very near the left end of the genome, the end packaged first during in vitro assembly.

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