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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jan 29;110(5):1674-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1220824110. Epub 2013 Jan 14.

Caulobacter chromosome in vivo configuration matches model predictions for a supercoiled polymer in a cell-like confinement.

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Department of Developmental Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


We measured the distance between fluorescent-labeled DNA loci of various interloci contour lengths in Caulobacter crescentus swarmer cells to determine the in vivo configuration of the chromosome. For DNA segments less than about 300 kb, the mean interloci distances, <r>, scale as n(0.22), where n is the contour length, and cell-to-cell distribution of the interloci distance r is a universal function of r/n(0.22) with broad cell-to-cell variability. For DNA segments greater than about 300 kb, the mean interloci distances scale as n, in agreement with previous observations. The 0.22 value of the scaling exponent for short DNA segments is consistent with theoretical predictions for a branched DNA polymer structure. Predictions from Brownian dynamics simulations of the packing of supercoiled DNA polymers in an elongated cell-like confinement are also consistent with a branched DNA structure, and simulated interloci distance distributions predict that confinement leads to "freezing" of the supercoiled configuration. Lateral positions of labeled loci at comparable positions along the length of the cell are strongly correlated when the longitudinal locus positions differ by <0.16 μm. We conclude that the chromosome structure is supercoiled locally and elongated at large length scales and that substantial cell-to-cell variability in the interloci distances indicates that in vivo crowding prevents the chromosome from reaching an equilibrium arrangement. We suggest that the force causing rapid transport of loci remote from the parS centromere to the distal cell pole may arise from the release at the polar region of potential energy within the supercoiled DNA.

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