Plasmids are extrachromosomal DNA elements that can be found throughout bacteria, as well as in other domains of life. Nonetheless, the evolutionary processes underlying the persistence of plasmids are incompletely understood. Bacterial plasmids may encode genes for traits that are sometimes beneficial to their hosts, such as antimicrobial resistance, virulence, heavy metal tolerance, and the catabolism of unique nutrient sources. In the absence of selection for these traits, however, plasmids generally impose a fitness cost on their hosts. As such, plasmid persistence presents a conundrum: models predict that costly plasmids will be lost over time or that beneficial plasmid genes will be integrated into the host genome. However, laboratory and comparative studies have shown that plasmids can persist for long periods, even in the absence of positive selection. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain plasmid persistence, including host-plasmid co-adaptation, plasmid hitchhiking, cross-ecotype transfer, and high plasmid transfer rates, but there is no clear evidence that any one model adequately resolves the plasmid paradox.

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Keywords Antibiotic resistance, Compensatory evolution, Epistasis, Evolution, Plasmid
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Journal Canadian Journal of Microbiology
Carroll, A.C. (Amanda C.), & Wong, A. (2018). Plasmid persistence: costs, benefits, and the plasmid paradox. Canadian Journal of Microbiology (Vol. 64, pp. 293–304). doi:10.1139/cjm-2017-0609