Viral Genetics

All organisms—plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria—are infected by viruses. A virus is a simple replicating structure made up of nucleic acid surrounded by a protein coat (see Figure 2.3). Viruses come in a great variety of shapes and sizes (< Figure 8.22). Some have DNA as their genetic material, whereas others have RNA; the nucleic acid may be double stranded or single stranded, linear or circular. Not surprisingly, viruses reproduce in a number of different ways.

Bacteriophages (phages) have played a central role in genetic research since the late 1940s. They are ideal for many types of genetic research because they have small and easily manageable genomes, reproduce rapidly, and produce large numbers of progeny. Bacteriophages have two alternative life cycles: the lytic and the lysogenic cycles. In the lytic cycle, a phage attaches to a receptor on the bacterial cell wall and

I 8.22 Viruses come in a great variety of shapes and sizes. (Top, Dr. Dennis Kunkel/Phototake; bottom, R.W. Horne/Photo Researchers.)

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