We have identified and characterized a genetic function (designated par, for partition) that is required for stable maintenance of plasmids within exponentially growing cell populations. This function, which accomplishes the active distribution of plasmid DNA molecules to daughter cells, has been localized within the pSC101 plasmid to a 270 bp segment adjacent to the replication origin. The par locus, which appears to be functionally equivalent to the centromere of eucaryotic cells, is able to rescue unstable pSC101-derived replicons or an unrelated par- P15A-derived multicopy replicon in the cis, but not the trans, configuration. It is independent of copy number control and dose not specify plasmid incompatibility. Furthermore, it is not associated directly with plasmid replication functions.