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Virology. 1994 Mar;199(2):301-10.

Tail length determination in bacteriophage T4.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of California, Los Angeles 90024.


This report identifies a protein that regulates tail length in bacteriophage T4. Earlier work (Duda et al., 1990) suggested that the gene 29 protein could be involved in T4 tail length determination as a "template" or "tape-measure", similar to that proposed for the gene H protein in bacteriophage lambda. We have altered the length of a recombinant gene 29 by constructing deletions and duplications in different parts of the gene. Each of these constructs was incorporated into the high-level expression vector, pET-11d. Seven plasmids with different lengths of gene 29 were made and used in complementation studies. We have found that the length of the tail can be decreased by deleting the C-terminal part of gene 29 or increased by forming duplications in different parts of this gene, and that the length of the tail can be proportional to the size of the engineered protein. Unlike phage lambda, plasmids with deletions in the middle of gene 29 or from the N-terminal end produced correspondingly smaller but inactive gene 29 protein and no viable phage were formed. Our results show that alterations in the length of gene 29 protein proportionately alters tail length, and argue strongly for a scheme in which 29 protein is a ruler or template that determines tail length during tail assembly.

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