In bacteria the genetic material is organized in a continuous strand of DNA. This circle of DNA is localized in an area called the nucleoid, but there is no membrane surrounding a defined nucleus as there is in the eukaryotic cells of protists, fungi, plants, and animals (see eukaryote). In addition to the nucleoid, the bacterial cell may include one or more plasmids, separate circular strands of DNA that can replicate independently, and that are not responsible for the reproduction of the organism. Drug resistance is often conveyed via plasmid genes.
Reproduction is chiefly by binary fission, cell division yielding identical daughter cells. Some bacteria reproduce by budding or fragmentation. Despite the fact that these processes should produce identical generations, the rapid rate of mutation possible in bacteria makes them very adaptable. Some bacteria are capable of specialized types of genetic recombination, which involves the transfer of nucleic acid by individual contact (conjugation), by exposure to nucleic acid remnants of dead bacteria (transformation), by exchange of plasmid genes, or by a viral agent, the bacteriophage (transduction). Under unfavorable conditions some bacteria form highly resistant spores with thickened coverings, within which the living material remains dormant in altered form until conditions improve. Others, such as the radioactivity-resistant Deinococcus radiodurans, can withstand serious damage by repairing their own DNA.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.