Intracellular mobility of plasmid DNA is limited by the ParA family of partitioning systems

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The highly conserved ParA family of partitioning systems is responsible for positioning DNA and protein complexes in bacteria. In Escherichia coli, plasmids that rely upon these systems are positioned at mid-cell and are repositioned at the quarter-cell positions after replication. How they remain fixed at these positions throughout the cell cycle is unknown. We use fluorescence recovery after photobleaching and time-lapse microscopy to measure plasmid mobility in living E. coli cells. We find that a minimalized version of plasmid RK2 that lacks its Par system is highly mobile, that the intact RK2 plasmid is relatively immobile, and that the addition of a Par system to the minimalized RK2 plasmid limits its mobility to that of the intact RK2. Mobility is thus the default state, and Par systems are required not only to position plasmids, but also to hold them at these positions. The intervention of Par systems is required continuously throughout the cell cycle to restrict plasmid movement that would, if unrestricted, subvert the segregation process. Our results reveal an important function for Par systems in plasmid DNA segregation that is likely to be conserved in bacteria.

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