episome (ĕpˈĭsōm) [key], unit of genetic material composed of a series of genes that sometimes has an independent existence in a host cell and at other times is integrated into a chromosome of the cell, replicating itself along with the chromosome. Episomes have been studied in bacteria. One group of episomes are actually viruses that infect bacteria. As autonomous units they destroy host cells, and as segments integrated into a chromosome they multiply in cell division and are transferred to daughter cells. Episomes called sex factors determine whether chromosome material will be transferred from one bacterium to another. Other episomes carry genes that make bacteria resistant to the inhibitory action of antibiotics. See recombination.
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