Kalle J. Hanhijärvi, Gabija Ziedaite, Dennis H. Bamford, Edward Hæggström and Minna M. Poranen
Genome packaging of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) phages has been widely studied using biochemical and molecular biology methods. We adapted the existing in vitro packaging system of one such phage for single-molecule experimentation. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to study the details of viral RNA packaging using optical tweezers. Pseudomonas phage phi6 is a dsRNA virus with a tripartite genome. Positive-sense (+) single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) genome precursors are packaged into a preformed procapsid (PC), where negative-strands are synthesized. We present single-molecule measurements of the viral ssRNA packaging by the phi6 PC. Our data show that packaging proceeds intermittently in slow and fast phases, which likely reflects differences in the unfolding of the RNA secondary structures of the ssRNA being packaged. Although the mean packaging velocity was relatively low (0.07–0.54 nm / s), packaging could reach 4.62 nm / s during the fast packaging phase.