The volume of a typical Eschericia coli nucleoid is roughly 10(4) times smaller than the volume of a freely coiling linear DNA molecule with the same length as the E. coli genome. We review the main forces that have been suggested to contribute to this compaction factor: macromolecular crowding (that "pushes" the DNA together), DNA charge neutralization by various polycationic species (that "glues" the DNA together), and finally, DNA deformations due to DNA supercoiling and nucleoid proteins. The direct contributions of DNA supercoiling and nucleoid proteins to the total compaction factor are probably small. Instead, we argue that the formation of the bacterial nucleoid can be described as a consequence of the influence of macromolecular crowding on thick, supercoiled protein-DNA fibers, that have been partly charge neutralized by small multivalent cations.
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