Approximately 10% of bacterial genomes are split between two or more large DNA fragments, a genome architecture referred to as a multipartite genome. This multipartite organization is found in many important organisms, including plant symbionts, such as the nitrogen-fixing rhizobia, and plant, animal, and human pathogens, including the genera
Brucella, Vibrio, and Burkholderia. The availability of many complete bacterial genome sequences means that we can now examine on a broad scale the characteristics of the different types of DNA molecules in a genome. Recent work has begun to shed light on the unique properties of each class of replicon, the unique functional role of chromosomal and nonchromosomal DNA molecules, and how the exploitation of novel niches may have driven the evolution of the multipartite genome. The aims of this review are to (i) outline the literature regarding bacterial genomes that are divided into multiple fragments, (ii) provide a meta-analysis of completed bacterial genomes from 1,708 species as a way of reviewing the abundant information present in these genome sequences, and (iii) provide an encompassing model to explain the evolution and function of the multipartite genome structure. This review covers, among other topics, salient genome terminology; mechanisms of multipartite genome formation; the phylogenetic distribution of multipartite genomes; how each part of a genome differs with respect to genomic signatures, genetic variability, and gene functional annotation; how each DNA molecule may interact; as well as the costs and benefits of this genome structure.