Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Plasmids encode partitioning genes (par) that are required for faithful plasmid segregation at cell division. Initially, par loci were identified on plasmids, but more recently they were also found on bacterial chromosomes. We present here a phylogenetic analysis of par loci from plasmids and chromosomes from prokaryotic organisms. All known plasmid-encoded par loci specify three components: a cis-acting centromere-like site and two trans-acting proteins that form a nucleoprotein complex at the centromere (i.e. the partition complex). The proteins are encoded by two genes in an operon that is autoregulated by the par-encoded proteins. In all cases, the upstream gene encodes an ATPase that is essential for partitioning. Recent cytological analyses indicate that the ATPases function as adaptors between a host-encoded component and the partition complex and thereby tether plasmids and chromosomal origin regions to specific subcellular sites (i.e. the poles or quarter-cell positions). Two types of partitioning ATPases are known: the Walker-type ATPases encoded by the par/sop gene family (type I partitioning loci) and the actin-like ATPase encoded by the par locus of plasmid R1 (type II partitioning locus). A phylogenetic analysis of the large family of Walker type of partitioning ATPases yielded a surprising pattern: most of the plasmid-encoded ATPases clustered into distinct subgroups. Surprisingly, however, the par loci encoding these distinct subgroups have different genetic organizations and thus divide the type I loci into types Ia and Ib. A second surprise was that almost all chromosome-encoded ATPases, including members from both Gram-negative and Gram-positive Bacteria and Archaea, clustered into one distinct subgroup. The phylogenetic tree is consistent with lateral gene transfer between Bacteria and Archaea. Using database mining with the ParM ATPase of plasmid R1, we identified a new par gene family from enteric bacteria. These type II loci, which encode ATPases of the actin type, have a genetic organization similar to that of type Ib loci.
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