Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics

Review Article

Biophysics of viral infectivity: matching genome length with capsid size

Elmar Nurmemmedova1, Martin Castelnovoa2, Carlos Enrique Catalanoa3 and Alex Evilevitcha1 c1

a1 Department of Biochemistry, Center for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

a2 Laboratoire Joliot-Curie – Laboratoire de Physique, Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, Lyon, France

a3 Department of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Washington School of Pharmacy, Seattle, WA, USA


In this review, we discuss recent advances in biophysical virology, presenting experimental and theoretical studies on the physical properties of viruses. We focus on the double-stranded (ds) DNA bacteriophages as model systems for all of the dsDNA viruses both prokaryotic and eukaryotic. Recent studies demonstrate that the DNA packaged into a viral capsid is highly pressurized, which provides a force for the first step of passive injection of viral DNA into a bacterial cell. Moreover, specific studies on capsid strength show a strong correlation between genome length, and capsid size and robustness. The implications of these newly appreciated physical properties of a viral particle with respect to the infection process are discussed.