The segregation of native and foreign extra-chromosomal genetic elements in Saccharomyces cerevisiae : stable propagation by hitchhiking on chromosomes



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The 2 micron plasmid of the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae resides in the nucleus as an extra-chromosomal element with a steady state copy number around 40-60 per cell. As a benign but selfish DNA element, the plasmid utilizes a self-coded partitioning system and an amplification system to exhibit nearly chromosome-like stability in its host. Plasmid behavior under conditions that missegregate chromosomes suggest that the partitioning system couples plasmid segregation to chromosome segregation. However, the mechanism of this coupling has not been elucidated. A plausible model, consistent with current evidence, is the hitchhiking model, in which plasmid-chromosome tethering provides the basis for faithful plasmid partitioning. Testing this hypothesis unequivocally has been difficult, primarily because of the technical limitations posed by the small size of the budding yeast nucleus and poor resolution of chromosomes. As a result, cell biological assays based on fluorescence microscopy have had only modest success in addressing this problem. In the present study, I devised an experimental verification of the hitchhiking model using a single copy derivative of the 2 micron plasmid as a reporter. The rationale was to establish various conditions that force sister chromatids to co-segregate during mitosis in a bias-free manner or with a bias towards the daughter. The segregation patterns of plasmid sisters were followed under these conditions. The sum of the results from this analysis is accommodated by the hitchhiking model, with sister plasmids associating with sister chromatids in a one-to-one fashion. Episomes of mammalian viruses belonging to the gamma-herpes and papilloma families utilize a hitchhiking mechanism to persist in cells during the latent phase of their infection. Two of the viral partitioning systems have been reconstituted in S. cerevisiae. We wished to exploit these systems to characterize the efficiency of non-native chromosome tethering systems in promoting equal segregation of viral plasmids in S. cerevisiae. We find that the 2 micron plasmid partitioning system is considerably superior to the viral systems. This could be due to the higher efficiency of plasmid-chromosome association and/or due to the ability of plasmid sisters to tether to sister chromatids.