Each cell division requires the unwinding of millions of DNA base pairs to allow chromosome duplication and gene transcription. As DNA replication and transcription share the same template, conflicts between both processes are unavoidable and head-on collisions are thought to be particularly problematic. Surprisingly, a recent study reported unperturbed cell cycle progression in Escherichia coli cells with an ectopic replication origin in which highly transcribed rrn operons were forced to be replicated opposite to normal. In this study we have re-generated a similar strain and found the doubling time to be twice that of normal cells. Replication profiles of this background revealed significant deviations in comparison to wild-type profiles, particularly in highly transcribed regions and the termination area. These deviations were alleviated by mutations that either inactivate the termination area or destabilise RNA polymerase complexes and allow their easier displacement by replication forks. Our data demonstrate that head-on replication-transcription conflicts are highly problematic. Indeed, analysis of the replication profile of the previously published E. coli construct revealed a chromosomal rearrangement that alleviates replication-transcription conflicts in an intriguingly simple way. Our data support the idea that avoiding head-on collisions has significantly contributed to shaping the distinct architecture of bacterial chromosomes.
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