DNA sequence analysis and Southern hybridizations, together with complementation experiments, were used to study relationships between lactococcal plasmid replicons. pWVO2, pWVO4 and pWVO5, which co-exist in subsp. Wg2, and pIL7 (isolated from another strain) all contained a functional replication region which appeared to be very similar to that of some known lactococcal plasmids. They contain a gene encoding a highly conserved RepB protein (60–80% amino acid identity between pWVO2, pWVO4 and pWVO5), which is essential for replication. When supplied of pWVO2 complemented a deficiency of pWVO5. Upstream of the gene, all these plasmids contain a strongly conserved region including a 22 bp sequence tandemly repeated three-and-a-half times, and an A/T-rich region. The similarity with pWVO2, which is known to replicate via a theta mechanism, suggests that all plasmids of this family are capable of theta replication. Southern hybridizations revealed that many lactococcal strains contain plasmids of this family.


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