Knotted DNA from bacteriophage capsids

L. F. Liu, L. Perkocha, R. Calendar, J. C. Wang

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88 Citations (Scopus)


The majority of the DNA prepared from tailless capsids of bacteriophage P2 by the phenol extraction procedure consists of monomeric rings that have their cohesive ends joined. Electron microscopic and ultracentrifugal studies indicate that these molecules have a complex structure that is topologically knotted; they have a more compact appearance and a higher sedimentation coefficient when compared with regular nicked P2 DNA rings. Linearization of these rings by thermal dissociation or repair of the cohesive ends by DNA polymerase I in the presence of all four deoxynucleoside triphosphates gives molecules that are indistinguishable from normal P2 DNA that has been similarly treated. The knotted nature of the majority of P2 head DNA is further supported by analyzing the products when these molecules are treated with ligase and ligase-treated molecules are subsequently nicked randomly with DNase I. The data are consistent with the notion that, if such a molecule is first converted to a form that contains only one single chain scission per molecule, strand separation gives a linear strand and a highly knotted single-stranded ring. The results suggest that the DNA packaged in tailless P2 capsids is arranged in a way that leads to the formation of a complex knot when the ends join. In an intact phage particle, the anchoring of one terminus of the DNA to the head-proximal end of the tail presumably diminishes or prevents this kind of joining. The novel knotted DNA can be used to assay type II DNA topo-isomerases that break and rejoin DNA in a double-stranded fashion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5498-5502
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9 II
Publication statusPublished - 1981
Externally publishedYes

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