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This article is the author's final published version in Nature Communications, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2024, Article number 317.

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Copyright © The Author(s) 2024


Thermus thermophilus bacteriophage P23-45 encodes a giant 5,002-residue tail tape measure protein (TMP) that defines the length of its extraordinarily long tail. Here, we show that the N-terminal portion of P23-45 TMP is an unusual RNA polymerase (RNAP) homologous to cellular RNAPs. The TMP-fused virion RNAP transcribes pre-early phage genes, including a gene that encodes another, non-virion RNAP, that transcribes early and some middle phage genes. We report the crystal structures of both P23-45 RNAPs. The non-virion RNAP has a crab-claw-like architecture. By contrast, the virion RNAP adopts a unique flat structure without a clamp. Structure and sequence comparisons of the P23-45 RNAPs with other RNAPs suggest that, despite the extensive functional differences, the two P23-45 RNAPs originate from an ancient gene duplication in an ancestral phage. Our findings demonstrate striking adaptability of RNAPs that can be attained within a single virus species.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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