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The nucleoids of Escherichia coli and the spirochetes Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia hermsii, agents of
Lyme disease and relapsing fever, were examined by epifluorescence microscopy of bacterial cells embedded in agarose and lysed in situ with detergent and protease. The typical E. coli nucleoid was a rosette in which 20 to 50 long loops of DNA emanated from a dense node of DNA. The percentages of cells in a population having nucleoids with zero, one, two, and three nodes varied with growth rate and growth phase. The borrelia nucleoid, in contrast, was a loose network of DNA strands devoid of nodes. This nucleoid structure difference correlates with the unusual genome of Borrelia species, which consists primarily of linear replicons, including a 950-kb linear chromosome and linear plasmids. This method provides a simple, direct means to analyze the structure of the bacterial nucleoid.