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The DNA ejection process in bacteriophage lambda



Bacteriophages have long served as model systems through which the nature of life may be explored. From a physical or mechanical point of view, phages are excellent examples of natural nanotechnology: they are nanometer-scale systems which depend critically on forces, pressures, velocities, and other fundamentally physical quantities for their biological functions. The study of the physical properties of phages has therefore provided an arena for application of physics to biology. In particular, recent studies of the motor responsible for packaging a phage gnome into a capsid showed a buildup of pressure within the capsid of tens of atmospheres. This thesis reports a combined theoretical and experimental study on various aspects of the genome ejection process, so that a comparison may be drawn with the packaging experiments. In particular, we examine various theoretical models of the forces within a phage capsid, deriving formulas both for the force driving genome ejection and for the velocity at which the genome is translocated into a host cell. We describe an experiment in which the force was measured as a function of the amount of genome within the phage capsid, and another where the genome ejection velocity was measured for single phages under the microscope. We make direct quantitative comparisons between the theory and experiments, stringently testing the extent to which we are able to model the genome ejection process.

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