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Open Access Research article

Effects of a recombinant gene expression on ColE1-like plasmid segregation in Escherichia coli

Mladen Popov1*, Stefan Petrov1, Genoveva Nacheva1, Ivan Ivanov1 and Udo Reichl2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Molecular Biology "Roumen Tsanev", Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Acad. G. Bonchev Str., 21, 1113 Sofia, Bulgaria

2 Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Sandtorstr.1, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany

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BMC Biotechnology 2011, 11:18  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-11-18

Published: 1 March 2011



Segregation of expression plasmids leads to loss of recombinant DNA from transformed bacterial cells due to the irregular distribution of plasmids between the daughter cells during cell division. Under non-selective conditions this segregational instability results in a heterogeneous population of cells, where the non-productive plasmid-free cells overgrow the plasmid-bearing cells thus decreasing the yield of recombinant protein. Amongst the factors affecting segregational plasmid instability are: the plasmid design, plasmid copy-number, host cell genotype, fermentation conditions etc. This study aims to investigate the influence of transcription and translation on the segregation of recombinant plasmids designed for constitutive gene expression in Escherichia coli LE392 at glucose-limited continuous cultivation. To this end a series of pBR322-based plasmids carrying a synthetic human interferon-gamma (hIFNγ) gene placed under the control of different regulatory elements (promoter and ribosome-binding sites) were used as a model.


Bacterial growth and product formation kinetics of transformed E. coli LE392 cells cultivated continuously were described by a structured kinetic model proposed by Lee et al. (1985). The obtained results demonstrated that both transcription and translation efficiency strongly affected plasmid segregation. The segregation of plasmid having a deleted promoter did not exceed 5% after 190 h of cultivation. The observed high plasmid stability was not related with an increase in the plasmid copy-number. A reverse correlation between the yield of recombinant protein (as modulated by using different ribosome binding sites) and segregational plasmid stability (determined by the above model) was also observed.


Switching-off transcription of the hIFNγ gene has a stabilising effect on ColE1-like plasmids against segregation, which is not associated with an increase in the plasmid copy-number. The increased constitutive gene expression has a negative effect on segregational plasmid stability. A kinetic model proposed by Lee et al. (1985) was appropriate for description of E. coli cell growth and recombinant product formation in chemostat cultivations.