The transfer of genetic material from one cell to another is accomplished in a variety of ways. The mode of transfer and the subsequent incorporation of the transferred material is a consequence of the basic structural organization of the genetic material in a given organism. In plants and animals, nucleus, the repository of genetic information is generally delimited by a membrane from the surrounding cytoplasm and the biologically important macromolecules are organized into complex structures, the chromosomes. Such genetic systems comprise the Eukaryotes, a group distinct from the simpler organisms referred to as the Prokaryotes, characterized by the absence of a conventional nucleus and the nuclear apparatus. The mechanics of both genetic systems, nevertheless, are based on the inherent properties and biochemical activity of a common macromolecule, DNA, which is the predominant carrier of genetic information. The major difference between the two types of systems lies in the presence of additional non-genic material, in the form of basic proteins and histones in the nuclei of Eukaryotes and it is this which is largely responsible for the organization of DNA into chromosome threads. The “nuclei” of the prokaryotes, including bacteria, possess the functional equivalent of a chromosome in the form of a single double-helical DNA molecule, free of histones and other proteinaceous material. In both systems, genetic exchange mechanisms can be interpreted in terms of the behaviour of a “linkage group”. In the following pages the bacterial linkage group will be referred to as the “bacterial chromosome”.


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