We use optical tweezers to study the effect of attractive versus repulsive DNA-DNA interactions on motor-driven viral packaging. Screening of repulsive interactions accelerates packaging, but induction of attractive interactions by spermidine3+ causes heterogeneous dynamics. Acceleration is observed in a fraction of complexes, but most exhibit slowing and stalling, suggesting that attractive interactions promote nonequilibrium DNA conformations that impede the motor. Thus, repulsive interactions facilitate packaging despite increasing the energy of the theoretical optimum spooled DNA conformation.
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