Coliphage T4 was used as a model system to study the mechanism of biological inactivation produced by tritium decay. Experimentally, tritiated precursors were incorporated into phage DNA (thymidine-3H) or into phage protein (3H-amino acids). The ratio of killing efficiencies for decays originating in phage DNA to those originating in phage protein was 2.6. Inactivation by decays from labeled amino acids was assumed to occur exclusively from β-particle irradiation of phage DNA. If decays originating in DNA are due solely to irradiation of DNA, then the killing efficiencies reflect the energy transfer paths in phage DNA for decays originating in phage DNA and in the protein coat. The energy transfer paths were determined for the two cases with the help of a computer and found to be very nearly equal to the experimentally determined ratio (2.6). The killing efficiencies for decays originating in phage DNA were 0.12 and for decays originating in protein 0.046.
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