The leading region of a plasmid is the first sector to enter the recipient cell in bacterial conjugation. This sector of IncI1 plasmid ColIb-P9 includes genes that are transcribed in a transient pulse early in the conjugatively infected cell to promote establishment of the immigrant plasmid. Evidence is presented that the burst of gene expression is regulated by a process which is independent of a repressor but dependent on the orientation of the genes on the unique plasmid strand transferred in conjugation. The nucleotide sequence of 11·7 kb of the leading region was determined and found to contain 10 ORFs; all are orientated such that the template strand for transcription corresponds to the transferred strand. The leading region contains three dispersed repeats of a sequence homologous to a novel promoter in ssDNA described by H. Masai & K. Arai (1997 , 89, 897–907). It is proposed that the repeats are promoters that form in the transferring strand of ColIb to support transient transcription of genes transferred early in conjugation.


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