The minimal genome paradox
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The concept of a ?minimal genome? has appeared as an attempt to answer the question what the minimum number of genes or minimum amount of DNA to support life is. Since bacteria are cells bearing the smallest genomes, it has been generally accepted that the minimal genome must belong to a bacterial species. Currently the most popular chromosome in studies on a minimal genome belongs to Mycoplasma genitalium, a parasite bacterium whose total genetic material is as small as 580 kb. However, the problem is how we define life, and thus also a minimal genome. M. genitalium is a parasite and requires substances provided by its host. Therefore, if a genome of a parasite can be considered as a minimal genome, why not to consider genomes of bacteriophages? Going further, bacterial plasmids could be considered as minimal genomes. The smallest known DNA region playing the function of the origin of replication, which is sufficient for plasmid survival in natural habitats, is as short as 32 base pairs. However, such a small DNA molecule could not form a circular form and be replicated by cellular enzymes. These facts may lead to an ostensibly paradoxical conclusion that the size of a minimal genome is restricted by the physical size of a DNA molecule able to replicate rather, than by the amount of genetic information.
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G. Wegrzyn, Department of Molecular Biology, University of Gdansk, Kladki 24, 80-822 Gdansk, Poland, e-mail: email@example.com