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Microbiol Rev. 1995 Dec;59(4):673-85.

Natural plasmids of filamentous fungi.

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  • 1Botany Department, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


Among eukaryotes, plasmids have been found in fungi and plants but not in animals. Most plasmids are mitochondrial. In filamentous fungi, plasmids are commonly encountered in isolates from natural populations. Individual populations may show a predominance of one type, but some plasmids have a global distribution, often crossing species boundaries. Surveys have shown that strains can contain more than one type of plasmid and that different types appear to be distributed independently. In crosses, plasmids are generally inherited maternally. Horizontal transmission is by cell contact. Circular plasmids are common only in Neurospora spp., but linear plasmids have been found in many fungi. Circular plasmids have one open reading frame (ORF) coding for a DNA polymerase or a reverse transcriptase. Linear plasmids generally have two ORFs, coding for presumptive DNA and RNA polymerases with amino acid motifs showing homology to viral polymerases. Plasmids often attain a high copy number, in excess of that of mitochondrial DNA. Linear plasmids have a protein attached to their 5' end, and this is presumed to act as a replication primer. Most plasmids are neutral passengers, but several linear plasmids integrate into mitochondrial DNA, causing death of the host culture. Inferred amino acid sequences of linear plasmid ORFs have been used to plot phylogenetic trees, which show a fair concordance with conventional trees. The circular Neurospora plasmids have replication systems that seem to be evolutionary intermediates between the RNA and the DNA worlds.

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