What is a suicide plasmid?

Example: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2737453/ mentions a "suicide vector". See also http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/~smaloy/MicrobialGenetics/topics/plasmids/allele-exchange.html which also mentions them.

  • $\begingroup$ While the answer to this is quite straightforward (see mine below), finding a source is less so. I will accept an answer which provides an appropriate reference for the definition. $\endgroup$
    – Superbest
    May 12, 2014 at 18:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Check out this page - it has a long discussion of suicide vectors, and from the note at the bottom it was adapted from a published source. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    May 12, 2014 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


As can be inferred from the Shanks et al. paper linked in the question: In molecular biology, "suicide plasmid" is a term that refers to a plasmid which is replication incompetent.*

Plasmids normally bear a sequence called "origin of replication" Ori which marks the plasmid for replication by the host cell. Plasmids that lack this Ori will not be replicated during cell division, and will become diluted away and/or degraded after a few generations. Hence the name: The plasmid will "commit suicide" by promptly becoming eliminated from the population of DNA molecules inside each cell.

Note that because not all Oris are universal, the same exact plasmid may be a normal vector in one species (eg. E. coli) and a suicide vector in another species (eg. P. aeruginosa) - which is logical: If a vector can't replicate in any species at all, how do you produce this vector in the first place? (there are ways, but they are laborious)

*: I am unable to find an authoritative source for this definition. The other two paragraphs are common knowledge.


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