The Extrachromosomal DNA


The genome of a eukaryotic cell consists of the chromosome housed in the nucleus, and
extrachromosomal DNA found in the mitochondria (all cells) and chloroplasts (plants and algae).

Source: OpenStax Microbiology

OpenStax Microbiology

DNA is contained within a cell’s chromosomes, many cells have additional molecules of DNA outside the chromosomes, called extrachromosomal DNA, that are also part of its genome. The genomes of eukaryotic cells would also include the chromosomes from any organelles such as mitochondria and/or chloroplasts that these cells maintain. The maintenance of circular chromosomes in these organelles is a vestige of their prokaryotic origins and supports the endosymbiotic theory. In some cases, genomes of certain DNA viruses can also be maintained independently in host cells during latent viral infection. In these cases, these viruses are another form of extrachromosomal DNA. For example, the human papillomavirus (HPV) may be maintained in infected cells in this way.

Besides chromosomes, some prokaryotes also have smaller loops of DNA called plasmids that may contain one or a few genes not essential for normal growth. Bacteria can exchange these plasmids with other bacteria in a process known as horizontal gene transfer HGT). The exchange of genetic material on plasmids sometimes provides
microbes with new genes beneficial for growth and survival under special conditions. In some cases, genes obtained from plasmids may have clinical implications, encoding virulence factors that give a microbe the ability to cause disease or make a microbe resistant to certain antibiotics. Plasmids are also used heavily in genetic engineering and
biotechnology as a way to move genes from one cell to another.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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