Ionizing radiation damage to the folded chromosome of Escherichia coli K-12: sedimentation properties of irradiated nucleoids and chromosomal deoxyribonucleic acid

J Bacteriol. 1979 May;138(2):475-85. doi: 10.1128/jb.138.2.475-485.1979.


The structures of the membrane-free nucleoid of Escherichia coli K-12 and of unfolded chromosomal deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) were investigated by low-speed sedimentation on neutral sucrose gradients after irradiation with 60Co gamma rays. Irradiation both in vivo and in vitro was used as a molecular probe of the constraints on DNA packaging in the bacterial chromosome. The number of domains of supercoiling was estimated to be approximately 180 per genome equivalent of DNA, based on measurements of relaxation caused by single-strand break formation in folded chromosomes gamma irradiated in vivo and in vitro. Similar estimates based on the target size of ribonucleic acid molecules responsible for maintaining the compact packaging of the nucleoid predicted negligible unfolding due to the formation of ribonucleic acid single-strand breaks at doses of up to 10 krad; this was born out by experimental measurements. Unfolding of the nucleoid in vitro by limit digestion with ribonuclease or by heating at 70 degrees C resulted in DNA complexes with sedimentation coefficients of 1,030 +/- 59S and 625 +/- 15S, respectively. The difference in these rates was apparently due to more complete deproteinization and thus less mass in the heated material. These structures are believed to represent intact, replicating genomes in the form of complex-theta structures containing two to three genome equivalents of DNA. The rate of formation of double-strand breaks was determined from molecular weight measurements of thermally unfolded chromosomal DNA gamma irradiated in vitro. Break formation was linear with doses up to 10 krad and occurred at a rate of 0.27 double-strand break per krad per genome equivalent of DNA (1,080 eV/double-strand break). The influence of possible nonlinear DNA conformations on these values is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Nucleus / radiation effects
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial / radiation effects*
  • Cobalt Radioisotopes*
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / radiation effects*
  • Escherichia coli / analysis
  • Escherichia coli / radiation effects*
  • Molecular Weight
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Ribonucleases / metabolism
  • Temperature


  • Cobalt Radioisotopes
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Ribonucleases