Recently, the extremely thermophilic bacterium Thermus thermophilus HB8 has been demonstrated to harbor a circular plasmid designated by pVV8 in addition to two well-known plasmids, pTT8 and pTT27, and its entire sequence has been determined. The absence of any obvious replication initiation gene in the 81. 2 kb plasmid prompted us to isolate its minimum replicon. By in vivo replication assays with fragments deleted in a stepwise manner, a minimum replicon containing a single ORF, TTHV001, was identified. A protein encoded by TTHV001 showed no amino acid sequence similarity to other function-known proteins. As the results of in vivo and in vitro experiments strongly suggested that the TTHV001 protein was involved in the replication initiation of pVV8, the protein and the gene were referred to as RepV and repV, respectively. The RepV protein binds to an inverted repeat sequence within its own repV gene and then triggers the unwinding of the DNA duplex in an A + T-rich region located just downstream from the inverted repeat. The in vivo replication assays with minimum replicon mutants in the RepV binding site or the unwinding region demonstrated that the unwinding in the region by the RepV binding was essential for pVV8 replication initiation.
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