Abstract

How genomes are organized within cells and how the 3D architecture of a genome influences cellular functions are significant questions in biology. A bacterial genomic DNA resides inside cells in a highly condensed and functionally organized form called nucleoid (nucleus-like structure without a nuclear membrane). The Escherichia coli chromosome or nucleoid is composed of the genomic DNA, RNA, and protein. The nucleoid forms by condensation and functional arrangement of a single chromosomal DNA with the help of chromosomal architectural proteins and RNA molecules as well as DNA supercoiling. Although a high-resolution structure of a bacterial nucleoid is yet to come, five decades of research has established the following salient features of the E. coli nucleoid elaborated below: 1) The chromosomal DNA is on the average a negatively supercoiled molecule that is folded as plectonemic loops, which are confined into many independent topological domains due to supercoiling diffusion barriers; 2) The loops spatially organize into megabase size regions called macrodomains, which are defined by more frequent physical interactions among DNA sites within the same macrodomain than between different macrodomains; 3) The condensed and spatially organized DNA takes the form of a helical ellipsoid radially confined in the cell; and 4) The DNA in the chromosome appears to have a condition-dependent 3-D structure that is linked to gene expression so that the nucleoid architecture and gene transcription are tightly interdependent, influencing each other reciprocally. Current advents of high-resolution microscopy, single-molecule analysis and molecular structure determination of the components are expected to reveal the total structure and function of the bacterial nucleoid.

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Introduction

In many bacteria, the chromosome is a single covalently closed (circular) double-stranded DNA molecule that encodes the genetic information in a haploid form. The size of the DNA varies from 500,000 to several million base-pairs (bp) encoding from 500 to several thousand genes depending on the organism. The chromosomal DNA is present in cells in a highly condensed, organized form called nucleoid (nucleus-like), which is not encased by a nuclear membrane as in eukaryotic cells. The isolated nucleoid contains 80% DNA, 10% protein, and 10% RNA by weight [1, 2]. In this exposition, we review our current knowledge about (i) how chromosomal DNA becomes the nucleoid, (ii) the factors involved therein, (iii) what is known about its structure, and (iv) how some of the DNA structural aspects influence gene expression, using the gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli as a model system. We also highlight some related issues that need to be resolved. This exposition is an extension of past reviews on the subject [3, 4].

 

E. coli Strains

E. coli Strains

There are two essential aspects of nucleoid formation; condensation of a large DNA into a small cellular space and functional organization of DNA in a three-dimensional form [5, 6]. The haploid circular chromosome in E. coli consists of ~ 4.6 x 106 bp. If DNA is relaxed in the B form, it would have a circumference of ~1.5 millimeters (0.332 nm x 4.6 x 106) (Fig 1A). However, a large DNA molecule such as the E. coli chromosomal DNA does not remain a straight rigid molecule in a suspension. Brownian motion will generate curvature and bends in DNA. The maximum length up to which a double-helical DNA remains straight by resisting the bending enforced by Brownian motion is ~50 nm or 150 bp, which is called the persistence length. Thus, pure DNA becomes substantially condensed without any additional factors; at thermal equilibrium, it assumes a random coil form. The random coil of E. coli chromosomal DNA (Fig 1B) would occupy a volume (4/3 π r3) of ~ 523 μm3, calculated from the radius of gyration (Rg = (√N a)/√6) where a is the Kuhn length (2 x persistence length), and N is the number of Kuhn length segments in the DNA (total length of the DNA divided by a). Although DNA is already condensed in the random coil form, it still cannot assume the volume of the nucleoid which is less than a micron (Fig 1C). Thus, the inherent property of DNA is not sufficient: additional factors must help condense DNA further on the order of ~103 (volume of the random coil divided by the nucleoid volume). The second essential aspect of nucleoid formation is the functional arrangement of DNA. Chromosomal DNA is not only condensed but also functionally organized in a way that is compatible with DNA transaction processes such as replication, recombination, segregation, and transcription (Fig 1C). Almost five decades of research beginning in 1971 [1], has shown that the final form of the nucleoid arises from a hierarchical organization of DNA. At the smallest scale (1 -kb or less), nucleoid-associated DNA architectural proteins condense and organize DNA by bending, looping, bridging or wrapping DNA. At a larger scale (10 -kb or larger), DNA forms plectonemic loops, a braided form of DNA induced by supercoiling. At the megabase scale, the plectonemic loops coalesce into six spatially organized domains (macrodomains), which are defined by more frequent physical interactions among DNA sites within the same macrodomain than between different macrodomains [7]. Long- and short-range DNA-DNA connections formed within and between the macrodomains contribute to condensation and functional organization. Finally, the nucleoid is a helical ellipsoid with regions of highly condensed DNA at the longitudinal axis [8–10]. We discuss these organizational features of the nucleoid and their molecular basis below.

Key Concepts:

  • E. coli is a preferred host for gene cloning due to the high efficiency of introduction of DNA molecules into cells.
  • E. coli is a preferred host for protein production due to its rapid growth and the ability to express proteins at very high levels.
  • Bacterial conjugation can be used to transfer large DNA fragments from one bacterium to another.
  • E. coli is a preferred host for the study of phage biology due to the detailed knowledge of its nucleic acid and protein biosynthetic pathways.
  • The ability of E. coli to grow on chemically defined media coupled with its extensive genetic toolbox make it a key system in study of bacterial metabolic pathways.

DNA cloning by homologous recombination in Escherichia coli

Escherichia-coli

Escherichia-coli

Abstract

The cloning of foreign DNA in Escherichia coli episomes is a cornerstone of molecular biology. The pioneering work in the early 1970s, using DNA ligases to paste DNA into episomal vectors, is still the most widely used approach. Here we describe a different principle, using ET recombination, for directed cloning and subcloning, which offers a variety of advantages. Most prominently, a chosen DNA region can be cloned from a complex mixture without prior isolation. Hence cloning by ET recombination resembles PCR in that both involve the amplification of a DNA region between two chosen points. We apply the strategy to subclone chosen DNA regions from several target molecules resident in E. coli hosts, and to clone chosen DNA regions from genomic DNA preparations. Here we analyze basic aspects of the approach and present several examples that illustrate its simplicity, flexibility, and remarkable efficiency.

 

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Escherichia coli PCR kit

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