Cell boundary confinement sets the size and position of the E. coli chromosome
Although the spatiotemporal structure of the genome is crucial to its biological function, many basic questions remain unanswered on the morphology and segregation of chromosomes. Here, we experimentally show in Escherichia coli that spatial confinement plays a dominant role in determining both the chromosome size and position. In non-dividing cells with lengths increased to 10 times normal, single chromosomes are observed to expand > 4-fold in size. Chromosomes show pronounced internal dynamics but exhibit a robust positioning where single nucleoids reside robustly at mid-cell, whereas two nucleoids self-organize at 1/4 and 3/4 positions. The cell-size-dependent expansion of the nucleoid is only modestly influenced by deletions of nucleoid-associated proteins, whereas osmotic manipulation experiments reveal a prominent role of molecular crowding. Molecular dynamics simulations with model chromosomes and crowders recapitulate the observed phenomena and highlight the role of entropic effects caused by confinement and molecular crowding in the spatial organization of the chromosome.