Borrelia species comprise a unique genus of bacterial pathogens. These organisms contain a segmented genome with up to two dozen plasmids ranging in size from 5 kb up to about 200 kb. The plasmids have also been referred to as mini-chromosomes or essential genetic elements, as some of them carry information important for infection of vertebrates or for survival in the tick vector. Most of the plasmids are linear with covalently closed hairpin telomeres and these linear plasmids are in a constant state of genetic rearrangement. The mechanisms of plasmid replication, maintenance and partitioning remain largely obscure and are complicated by a long doubling time, the requirement for expensive media and inefficient genetic manipulation. A set of five parologous protein families (PFs) are believed to confer the ability for autonomous replication and plasmid maintenance. The number of plasmids also complicates analyses because of the possibility that PFs from one plasmid may sometimes function in trans on other plasmids. Two papers in the last year have moved the field forward and their combined data suggest that trans complementation amongst Borrelia plasmids may sometimes occur.
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