Rates of spontaneous mutation in bacteriophage T4 are independent of host fidelity determinants

Genetics. 1994 Nov;138(3):553-64. doi: 10.1093/genetics/138.3.553.


Bacteriophage T4 encodes most of the genes whose products are required for its DNA metabolism, and host (Escherichia coli) genes can only infrequently complement mutationally inactivated T4 genes. We screened the following host mutator mutations for effects on spontaneous mutation rates in T4: mutT (destruction of aberrant dGTPs), polA, polB and polC (DNA polymerases), dnaQ (exonucleolytic proofreading), mutH, mutS, mutL and uvrD (methyl-directed DNA mismatch repair), mutM and mutY (excision repair of oxygen-damaged DNA), mutA (function unknown), and topB and osmZ (affecting DNA topology). None increased T4 spontaneous mutation rates within a resolving power of about twofold (nor did optA, which is not a mutator but overexpresses a host dGTPase). Previous screens in T4 have revealed strong mutator mutations only in the gene encoding the viral DNA polymerase and proofreading 3'-exonuclease, plus weak mutators in several polymerase accessory proteins or determinants of dNTP pool sizes. T4 maintains a spontaneous mutation rate per base pair about 30-fold greater than that of its host. Thus, the joint high fidelity of insertion by T4 DNA polymerase and proofreading by its associated 3'-exonuclease appear to determine the T4 spontaneous mutation rate, whereas the host requires numerous additional systems to achieve high replication fidelity.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage T4 / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / virology*
  • Genes, Viral
  • Mutation*
  • Sequence Deletion