Do most bacteria have plasmids? I googled that and I found this

Yes, Plasmids naturally exist in all bacterial cells. Here

But I know some of them don't!

Is this sentence scientifically correct?

Most bacteria have plasmids. If you study a random bacterium, you will probably find plasmid(s) in it.

enter image description here

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I am voting to close this question as it is not a question about biology (nor even one about scientific terminology) but about use of the English language. It might be appropriate on English Language Learners. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Sep 10 '20 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ Ignoring the grammatical quibble for now - how do you know that some bacteria don't have plasmids? $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Sep 10 '20 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo I know that from my textbook, I added a picture. $\endgroup$
    – a.RR
    Sep 10 '20 at 20:57

I think there might be some confusion between individual bacterial cells and "Bacteria" in general. The link you shared is either oversimplifying to the point of losing touch with the truth, or they simply used inappropriate word choice. It's unfortunate that they didn't seem to include a primary source to backup that claim.

For a more general statement like, "Most bacteria have plasmids," I would interpret that as meaning plasmids have been found in most bacterial lineages, not necessarily that most individual bacterial cells have plasmids. But I could see how that might confuse some readers and/or educational content creators.

I will share this for reference. The distribution of plasmids is typically heterogeneous within populations, and variable between populations. For any given plasmid, it's common for only a fraction of the population to carry it. Sometimes nearly 100% of a population carries has the same plasmid, but in other cases it can be 10% or less. I would wager that it depends on how mobile that plasmid is and on the selective pressures specific to the environment in which they are living.

I have personally observed this heterogeneity even in laboratory strains under antibiotic selection. I once determined that less than 20% of my E. coli cells in a culture were actually carrying the plasmid under selection (I did this quick experiment because I was not able to recover detectable amounts of the protein that I was trying to express in my strain).

The reference I linked might be a useful resource for the OP. In case that link doesn't work, here's the reference.

Holger Heuer, Zaid Abdo, Kornelia Smalla, Patchy distribution of flexible genetic elements in bacterial populations mediates robustness to environmental uncertainty, FEMS Microbiology Ecology, Volume 65, Issue 3, September 2008, Pages 361–371, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-6941.2008.00539.x


When people work with E. coli in labs, they often use a strain initially without plasmids - which is very easily infected if someone else nearby is working with a strain that does have a plasmid.

  • $\begingroup$ So if we leave the lab, it is pretty unlikely to find a bacteria without plasmid(s) in nature, isn't it? $\endgroup$
    – a.RR
    Sep 11 '20 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Uncertain, I dont know if a survey has been made. $\endgroup$ Sep 11 '20 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AmirhoseinRiazi - Plasmids are commonly found in natural bacterial populations. See the link in the answer I posted for more information. $\endgroup$
    – MikeyC
    Sep 11 '20 at 15:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.