Extremely cold environments are a challenge for all organisms. They are mostly inhabited by psychrophilic and psychrotolerant bacteria, which employ various strategies to cope with the cold. Such harsh environments are often highly vulnerable to the influence of external factors and may undergo frequent dynamic changes. The rapid adjustment of bacteria to changing environmental conditions is crucial for their survival. Such short-term evolution is often enabled by plasmids – extrachromosomal replicons that represent major players in horizontal gene transfer.The genomic sequences of thousands of microorganisms, including those of many cold-active bacteria have been obtained over the last decade, but the collected data have yet to be thoroughly analyzed. This report describes the results of a meta-analysis of the NCBI sequence databases to identify and characterize plasmids of psychrophilic and psychrotolerant bacteria.We have performed in-depth analyses of 66 plasmids, almost half of which are cryptic replicons not exceeding 10 kb in size. Our analyses of the larger plasmids revealed the presence of numerous genes, which may increase the phenotypic flexibility of their host strains. These genes encode enzymes possibly involved in (i) protection against cold and ultraviolet radiation, (ii) scavenging of reactive oxygen species, (iii) metabolism of amino acids, carbohydrates, nucleotides and lipids, (iv) energy production and conversion, (v) utilization of toxic organic compounds (e.g. naphthalene), and (vi) resistance to heavy metals, metalloids and antibiotics. Some of the plasmids also contain type II restriction-modification systems, which are involved in both plasmid stabilization and protection against foreign DNA. Moreover, approx. 50% of the analyzed plasmids carry genetic modules responsible for conjugal transfer or mobilization for transfer, which may facilitate the spread of these replicons among various bacteria, including across species boundaries
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