A protoplast infection assay has been used to reliably examine the viral RNA encapsidation of turnip crinkle virus (TCV). Analysis of the encapsidation of various mutant viral RNAs revealed that a 186-nucleotide (nt) region at the 3' end of the coat protein (CP) gene, with a bulged hairpin loop of 28 nt as its most essential element, was indispensable for TCV RNA encapsidation. When RNA fragments containing the 186-nt region were used to replace the CP gene of a different virus, tomato bushy stunt virus, the resulting chimeric viral RNAs were encapsidated into TCV virions. Furthermore, analysis of the encapsidated chimeric RNA species established that the RNA size was an important determinant of the TCV assembly process
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