Multi-subunit ring-ATPases carry out a myriad of biological functions, including genome packaging in viruses. Though the basic structures and functions of these motors have been well-established, the mechanisms of ATPase firing and motor coordination are poorly understood. Here, using single-molecule fluorescence, we determine that the active bacteriophage T4 DNA packaging motor consists of five subunits of gp17. By systematically doping motors with an ATPase-defective subunit and selecting single motors containing a precise number of active or inactive subunits, we find that the packaging motor can tolerate an inactive subunit. However, motors containing one or more inactive subunits exhibit fewer DNA engagements, a higher failure rate in encapsidation, reduced packaging velocity, and increased pausing. These findings suggest a DNA packaging model in which the motor, by re-adjusting its grip on DNA, can skip an inactive subunit and resume DNA translocation, suggesting that strict coordination amongst motor subunits of packaging motors is not crucial for function.
© 2021. The Author(s).