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Mol Microbiol. 1997 Apr;24(2):341-53.

Mutations of the coat protein gene of bacteriophage lambda that overcome the necessity for the Fl gene; the EFi domain.

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Department of Medical Genetics and Microbiology, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The functions of most of the 10 genes involved in phage lambda capsid morphogenesis are well understood. The function of the FI gene is one of the exceptions. Mutants in FI fail to mature and package DNA. The gene product (gpFI) seems to act as a catalyst for the formation of an intermediate in capsid assembly called complex II, which contains a procapsid (an empty capsid precursor), terminase (the enzyme that cleaves the DNA precursor and packages it into the procapsid) and DNA. The mechanism for this stimulation remains unknown. It has also been reported that gpFI appeared to stimulate terminase-mediated cos cleavage, in the absence of procapsids, by increasing enzyme turnover. In comparison with other head-gene mutants, FI mutants are leaky, producing approx. 0.1 phage per infected cell. Some second-site revertants of FI- phages, called 'fin', that bypass the necessity for gpFI, have been isolated and found to harbour a mutation in the genes that code for the two subunits of terminase. In the course of mapping additional fin mutants, it was discovered that some mapped outside the terminase genes. To localize the mutations, restriction fragments of fin mutant DNAs were subcloned into plasmids and their ability to contribute to fin function was determined by marker-rescue analysis. The location of the fin mutation was further delineated by deletion analysis of a plasmid that was positive for fin. This showed that some fin mutations mapped to a region comprising genes E, D and a portion of C. The sequencing of this entire region in several fin isolates showed that the fin mutations are clustered in a small region of gene E corresponding to a portion of 26 amino acid residues of the coat protein (gpE). We have called this region of the protein the EFI domain. All the mutations result in an increase in positive charge relative to the wild-type protein. These results suggest that DNA maturation and packaging are in part controlled by an interaction between gpFI and capsid gpE.

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