Determination of Bacteriophage Lambda Tail Length by a Protein Ruler

Nature. 1987 May 7-13;327(6117):73-5. doi: 10.1038/327073a0.


How the size and shape of living structures are determined by genetic information is one of the fundamental problems in biology. Here I describe a study in which the size of a biological supramolecular structure was changed in a predictable way by in vitro genetics, with the size both before and after manipulation being exactly determined. I have studied the tail of bacteriophage lambda, whose length is determined by the length of the 'ruler protein', the product of gene H. The length of the tail can be decreased or increased by deleting the middle part of gene H or by forming a small duplication there, and the length of the tail is proportional to the size of the protein. These results can be regarded as a special case of protein engineering, namely supramolecular protein engineering.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage lambda / genetics
  • Bacteriophage lambda / ultrastructure*
  • Biometry
  • Chromosome Deletion
  • Genes, Viral
  • Mutation
  • Viral Proteins / genetics*
  • Viral Tail Proteins


  • Viral Proteins
  • Viral Tail Proteins