• Average electrical surface charge density;
  • Bacteriophage DNA packaging motor;
  • Chemical cross-linking;
  • Effective particle radius;
  • Two-dimensional electrophoresis


We find a new aspect of DNA packaging-associated structural fluidity for phage T3 capsids. The procedure is (i) glutaraldehyde cross-linking of in vivo DNA packaging intermediates for the stabilization of structure and then (ii) determining effective radius by two-dimensional agarose gel electrophoresis (2D-AGE). The intermediates are capsids with incompletely packaged DNA (ipDNA) and without an external DNA segment; these intermediates are called ipDNA-capsids. We initially increase the production of ipDNA-capsids by raising NaCl concentration during in vivo DNA packaging. By 2D-AGE, we find a new state of contracted shell for some particles of one previously identified ipDNA-capsid. The contracted shell-state is found when the ipDNA length/mature DNA length (F) is above 0.17, but not at lower F. Some contracted-shell ipDNA-capsids have the phage tail; others do not. The contracted-shell ipDNA-capsids are explained by premature DNA maturation cleavage that makes accessible a contracted-shell intermediate of a cycle of the T3 DNA packaging motor. The analysis of ipDNA-capsids, rather than intermediates with uncleaved DNA, provides a simplifying strategy for a complete biochemical analysis of in vivo DNA packaging.