Although often viewed as elements "at the service of" bacteria, plasmids exhibit replication and maintenance mechanisms that make them purely "selfish DNA" candidates. Toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are a spectacular example of such mechanisms: a gene coding for a cytotoxic stable protein is preceded by a gene coding for an unstable antitoxin. The toxin being more stable than the antitoxin, absence of the operon causes a reduction of the amount of the latter relative to the amount of the former. Thus, a cell exhibiting a TA system on a plasmid is 'condemned' either not to loose it or to die.
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