Petit λ is an empty spherical shell of protein which appears wherever λ grows. If phage DNA and petit λ are added to a cell-free extract of induced lysogenic bacteria, then phage particles are formed that contain the DNA and protein from the petit λ. Petit λ is transformed, without dissociation, into a phage head by addition of DNA and more phage proteins. The products of ten genes, nine phage and one host, are required for λ head assembly. Among these, the products of four phage genes, E, B, C, and Nu3 and of the host gene groE are involved in the synthesis of petit λ, consequently these proteins are dispensable for head assembly in extracts to which petit λ has been added. The products of genes A and D allow DNA to combine with petit λ to form a head that has normal morphology. In an extract, DNA can react with A product and petit λ to become partially DNAase-resistant, as if an unstable DNA-filled intermediate were formed. ATP and spermidine are needed at this stage. This intermediate is subsequently stabilized by addition of D product. The data suggest a pathway for head assembly.
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