CH391L/S12/Origins of Replication

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Plasmid Replication

In order for a piece of circular, dsDNA to be propagated in bacteria, it needs to be replicated by host machinery. There is a sequence in the plasmid that directs the cell to begin replication. Important considerations are host range, compatibly, and copy number. The host range refers to what species of bacteria will recognize the origin of replication and thus allow for replication. The compatibility refers to a plasmid's ability to coexist with another plasmid in the same cell. Copy number refers to the average or expected number of copies of the plasmid per cell.

There are three main mechanisms for plasmid replication: Rolling Circle, Strand Displacement, and Theta.

  • Strand Displacement...
  • In Rolling Circle Replication, a nick is made by the Rep protein at the "double strand origin" of a dsDNA plasmdid. The free 3'OH is extended, displacing as it progresses. After one unit length of displacement, replication is terminated, yielding one dsDNA plasmid and ssDNA of one unit length. The displaced strand then serves as a template for replication from a "single strand origins." Since each strand is replicated independently, it is possible for the ssDNA form to accumulate. This mechanism is found in Staphylococcus aureus and Streptomyces lividans as well as many bacteriophages.
  • Theta replication is the most common form of DNA replication, including most plasmids as well as chromosomes. RNA serves a primer, DNA is polymerized in one or both directions. In the first case, a single fork circumnavigates the entire plasmid until the origin is reached, and daughter plasmids separate. In bidirectional replication, two forks propagate and meet on the far side of the plasmid before resolution. ColE1, p15A, RK2, F, and P1 all use theta replication.

Host Range

Plasmids are classified as having a narrow or broad host range.

  • ColE1 and pMB1 are limited to E. coli and a few close relatives,
  • RK2 plasmids can be used in most gram-negative bacteria.
  • RSF1010 can use used in most gram-negative bacteria, and some gram-positive
  • Plasmids from gram-positive bacteria tend to function well in other gram-positive bacteria.

Compatibility Groups

If two plasmids have the same (or very similar) origins of replication, they will compete with each other for replication machinery. This results in an unstable situation. If the two plasmids posses different selectable markers, this can be maintained for several generations, but eventually one of the plasmids will be lost. For scenarios in which multiple plasmids are necesary, one must be careful to choose plasmids will compatible origins. The most common dual-plasmid pair is ColE1(or pMB1) and p15A. The most common plasmid triplet is ColE1 (or pMB1),p15A, and pSC101. Tolia and Joshua-Tor suggest the following groups:

  • ColE1/pMB1 (eg pET, pUC, pBR322, pGEX, pMAL)
  • p15A (eg pBad, pACYC)
  • CloDF13
  • ColA
  • RSF1030

Copy Number

  • ColE1: 15-20 copies
  • pMB1: 20-700 copies
    • pUC: 500-700 copies
    • pBR322: ~20 copies
  • pSC101: ~5 copies
  • p15A: 10-12 copies
  • RK2: 4-7 copies
  • F1: ~1 copy
  • CloDF13: 20-40 copies
  • ColA: 20-40 copies
  • RSF1030: >100 copies
  • P1: ~1 copy

Control of Initiation/copy number

  • RNA regulation:
    • ColE1/pMB1: Does not require plasmid encoded initiator protein, does require DnaA binding. The origin contains regions promoting the synthesis of RNA I and RNA II. RNA II hybrizes to the DNA, yielded a DNA/RNA hybrid which can serve as a substrate for RNaseH. Digestion of RNA II by RNaseH yields the primer for replication. RNA I binds and sequesters RNA II, so it is unavailable for RNAse H digestion. As the copy number increases, so does the concentration of RNA I. This provides a negative feedback for replication, and sets the average number of plasmids per cell. The Rop protein helps lower the copy number, by stabilizing the RNA I/ RNA II duplex. Deletion of Rop, as well as a point mutation that weakens the RNA I and RNA II duplex, accounts for the higher copy of pUC (a pMB1 derivatives)
    • p15A, ColA, ColD, are similar to ColE1, but with different versions of RNA I and RNA II.
  • RNA and protein regulation:
    • R1: OriR is bound by RepA, thus promoting replication. RepA can be expressed from two different promoter. A proximal promoter (pRepA) drives only RepA while a distal promoter (pCopB) drives both CopB and RepA. CopB represses pRepA, thus once there are enough plasmids around, CopB levels become high enough to limit RepA expression to pCopB promoter. plasmid encoded CopA is completmentary, and thus binds to the 5' end of the transcript originating from the pCopB promoter. The dsRNA is a substrate for the processice RNase III.
  • Iteron regulation
    • pSC101, F, RK6, P1, RK2, all RP4 replicate using a protein to regulate their replication. The origin contains several (3-7) repeats of a 17-22bp sequence called iteron sequences. pSC101 contains the repA gene and 3 iterons. RepA binds the iterons and positively activates replication. Copy number is regulated in two forms. Firstly, RepA negatively regulates its own transcription, thus the RepA protein levels (and its ability to initiate replication) is confined to narrow limits. Secondly, the multimerization of RepA proteins bound to different plasmids cause the plasmids to be "handcuffed;" this is more of a problem at higher plasmid concentration, thus imposing a limit on the copy number. Adding extra iteron sequences on other plasmids can reduce the copy number by this handcuffing mechanism.


NCBI links

Other Extra chromosomal bodies




Error fetching PMID 9618448:
Error fetching PMID 1283002:
Error fetching PMID 16369554:
  1. Error fetching PMID 9618448: [Solar1998]

  2. Error fetching PMID 1283002: [Lin-Chao1992]
    Regarding the copy number of pUC vs pBR322

  3. and Genetic Elements)


  4. Error fetching PMID 16369554: [Tolia2006]
    regarding plasmid compatibility.

All Medline abstracts: PubMed HubMed
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