Origin and evolution of plasmids
- Cite this article as:
- Kado, C.I. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek (1998) 73: 117. doi:10.1023/A:1000652513822
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Studies on the origin and evolution of plasmids may provide valuable insights on the promiscuous nature of DNA. The first examples of the selfish nature of nucleic acids are exemplified by primordial oligoribonucleotides which evolved into primitive replicons. The propagation of these molecules were likely patterned after the current viral RNA ribozymes, which have been recently shown to possess RNA synthesizing and template mediated polymerizing capabilities in the absence of proteins. The parasitic nature of nucleic acids is depicted by satellite nucleic acid molecules associated with viruses. The satellites of adenovirus and tobacco ringspot virus serve as established examples: they contain no open reading frames. Comparative analysis of the replication origins of virions and plasmids show them to be conserved, originating from the simplest autocatalytic replicon to highly complex and evolved plasmids, replicating by a rolling circle mechanism. The eventual association of proteins with nucleic acids provided added efficiency and protective advantages for molecular perpetuation. The promiscuous and selfish nature of plasmids is demonstrated by their ability to genetically engineer their host so that the host cell is best able to cope and survive in hostile environments. Survival of the host ensures survival of the plasmid. Sequestering of genes by plasmids occurs when the environmental conditions negatively affect the host. The sequestering mechanism is fundamental and forms the outreach mechanisms to generate and propagate macromolecules of increasing size when necessary for survival. The level of sophistication of plasmids increases with the addition of new genes such as those that allow the host to occupy a specific environment normally inhospitable to the host cell. The vast range of plasmid types which have obtained genes interchangeably reflect the levels of sophistication achieved by these macromolecules. The Ti plasmid in Agrobacterium tumefaciens and the pSym and accessory plasmids in Rhizobium illustrate the level of complexity attained by replicons.