The bacteriophage T4 containing assimilated radioactive phosphorus is inactivated at a rate proportional to the specific radioactivity of the constituent phosphorus. The beta radiation from the phosphorus makes a negligible contribution to this effect. The inactivation is therefore a direct consequence of the nuclear reaction, which kills the phage with an efficiency of about 1/12. Several phages related to T4 behave similarly.
When radioactive phage is grown from a seed of non-radioactive phage, all of the phage progeny are subject to killing by radioactive decay.
The phage is killed by beta radiation from P32 with an efficiency of about 1/100 per ionization within the particle volume.
Bacteriophage T4 and its relatives contain about 500,000 atoms of phosphorus per infective particle. Virtually all this phosphorus is adsorbed to bacteria with the specificity characteristic of the infective particles, and none of it can be removed from the particles by the enzyme desoxyribonuclease. The phosphorus content per particle, together with the published data on analytical composition, indicates a particle diameter close to 110 mµ for the varieties of phage studied.