What is Plasmid DNA?
At their most basic level, plasmids are small circular pieces of DNA that replicate independently from the host’s chromosomal DNA.
They are mainly found in bacteria, but also exist naturally in archaea and eukaryotes such as yeast and plants. In nature, plasmids provide one or more functional benefits to the host such as resistance to antibiotics, degradative functions, and/or virulence. All natural plasmids contain an origin of replication (which controls the host range and copy number of the plasmid) and typically include a gene that is advantageous for survival, such as an antibiotic resistance gene.
In contrast, plasmids utilized in the lab are usually artificial and designed to introduce foreign DNA into another cell. Minimally, lab-created plasmids have an origin of replication, selection marker, and cloning site. The ease of modifying plasmids and the ability of plasmids to self-replicate within a cell make them attractive tools for the life scientist or bio-engineer.