The dimensions of bacteriophage T7 and T7 capsids have been investigated by small-angle x-ray scattering. Phage T7 behaves like a sphere of uniform density with an outer radius of 301 +/- 2 A (excluding the phage tail) and a calculated volume for protein plus nucleic acid of 1.14 +/- 0.05 x 10(-16) ml. The outer radius determined for T7 phage in solution is approximately 30% greater than the radius measured from electron micrographs, which indicates that considerable shrinkage occurs during preparation for electron microscopy. Capsids that have a phagelike envelope and do not contain DNA were obtained from lysates of T7-infected Escherichia coli (capsid II) and by separating the capsid component of T7 phage from the phage DNA by means of temperature shock (capsid IV). In both cases the peak protein density is at a radius of 275 A; the outer radius is 286 +/- 4 A, approximately 5% smaller than the envelope of T7 phage. The thickness of the envelope of capsid II is 22 +/- 4 A, consistent with the thickness of protein estimated to be 23 +/- 5 A in whole T7 phage, as seen on electron micrographs in which the internal DNA is positively stained. The volume in T7 phage available to package DNA is estimated to be 9.2 +/- 0.4 x 10(-17) ml. The packaged DNA adopts a regular packing with 23.6 A interplanar spacing between, DNA strands. The angular width of the 23.6 A reflection shows that the mean DNA-DNA spacing throughout the phage head is 27.5 +/- less than 2.2 A. A T7 precursor capsid (capsid I) expands when pelleted for x-ray scattering in the ultracentrifuge to essentially the same outer dimensions as for capsids II and IV. This expansion of capsid I can be prevented by fixing with glutaraldehyde; fixed capsid I has peak density at a radius of 247 A, 10% less than capsid II or IV.
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