Since their discovery in 1961 by Loeb and Zinder, the RNA phages have served as a model system to explore a variety of problems in molecular biology. As a source of homogeneous and readily obtainable messenger RNA, they have been particularly helpful in solving questions on regulation of gene expression at the level of translation. The concepts of translational polarity and translational control by repressor proteins resulted from early studies on bacteriophage RNA.

The RNA phages have also provided us with the best defined RNA replication system, which is currently used to study template recognition, in vitro RNA recombination and replication.

Available infectious clones have opened the possibility to explore the compromise between the need to fold in a specific way and the need to encode proteins.

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