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Trends Biochem Sci. 1998 Nov;23(11):434-8.

Contrasting lifestyles of rolling-circle phages and plasmids.

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  • 1Skirball Institute, New York University Medical School, NY 10016, USA.


The rolling-circle mechanism of DNA replication is used by small prokaryotic genomes, such as single-stranded phages and plasmids. However, phages and plasmids have adapted the rolling-circle mechanism differently to suit their contrasting biological needs. The phi X174 phage uses a monomeric initiator protein catalytically, displays incomplete termination and recycles the initiator protein, in order to mass-produce phage progeny. By contrast, to control replication precisely, the pT181 plasmid uses a dimeric initiator protein stochiometrically, completes termination and inactivates the initiator after each replication cycle. The phi X174 phage and the pT181 plasmid represent paradigmatic adaptations of the rolling-circle mechanism and could provide models for other replicons.

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