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Plasmid vs. Vector: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 31, 2023
Plasmids are small, circular DNA molecules within bacteria, while vectors are vehicles to transfer DNA into a host cell.

Key Differences

Plasmids are naturally occurring, small DNA molecules found primarily in bacteria, independent of chromosomal DNA. Vectors, in contrast, are tools used in molecular biology to deliver genetic material into cells, and plasmids often serve as a type of vector.
Plasmids can replicate independently of the bacterial chromosome and often carry genes beneficial for bacterial survival. As vectors, they are manipulated to carry foreign DNA sequences into other cells, enabling genetic engineering and research.
Plasmids are specific to bacterial and some eukaryotic cells, while vectors can be various types including plasmids, viruses, or artificial chromosomes, each suited for different hosts or purposes in genetic studies.
Plasmids typically carry only a small number of genes. As vectors, when plasmids are used, their small size allows for easier insertion and manipulation of foreign DNA.
In essence, all plasmids are a form of DNA, but not all vectors are plasmids; vectors represent a broader category of DNA carriers used in biotechnology and research.

Comparison Chart


Small, circular DNA molecules in bacteria.
Vehicles for DNA transfer into host cells.

Natural Occurrence

Naturally occurring in bacteria and some eukaryotes.
Can be natural or artificially constructed.

Function in Cells

Often carry genes for antibiotic resistance or other benefits.
Deliver genetic material for research or therapy.

Size and Complexity

Small, less complex structure.
Varies; can be plasmids, viruses, or artificial chromosomes.

Role in Genetic Engineering

Can be used as vectors but have limited capacity.
Essential tools for introducing new genes into cells.

Plasmid and Vector Definitions


A vehicle for gene cloning and manipulation in biotechnological applications.
The plasmid was engineered to include a human gene for insulin production.


An entity in molecular biology used for cloning, transferring, and expressing genes.
The vector containing the gene of interest was inserted into yeast cells for protein production.


Naturally occurring genetic elements that can replicate independently in a host.
A plasmid was used to study gene function in a laboratory setting.


A vehicle, often a plasmid or virus, used in gene therapy.
A vector was engineered to target specific cells in cancer therapy.


Self-replicating DNA used in the transfer of genes between cells.
Researchers introduced a gene into a bacterial cell using a plasmid.


Tools in biotechnology for gene manipulation and study.
Scientists used a bacterial vector to study gene expression in a lab experiment.


A small, circular DNA molecule found in bacteria, separate from chromosomal DNA.
Scientists discovered a plasmid carrying antibiotic resistance genes in a bacterial strain.


A carrier used to transfer genetic material into a host cell.
A viral vector was utilized for delivering the therapeutic gene into patient cells.


A tool in molecular biology for genetic experiments and therapy.
The plasmid was essential in developing a new gene therapy approach.


An agent in genetic engineering to introduce new DNA to host cells.
The vector was designed to carry a corrective gene into genetic disorder cells.


A circular, double-stranded unit of DNA that replicates within a cell independently of the chromosomal DNA. Plasmids are most often found in bacteria and are used in recombinant DNA research to transfer genes between cells.


A quantity, such as velocity, completely specified by a magnitude and a direction.


(cytology) A loop of double-stranded DNA that is separate from and replicates independently of the chromosomes, most commonly found in bacteria, but also in archaeans and eukaryotic cells, and used in genetic engineering as a vector for gene transfer.


A one-dimensional array.


A piece of DNA, usually circular, functioning as part of the genetic material of a cell, not integrated with the chromosome and replicating independently of the chromosome, but transferred, like the chromosome, to subsequent generations of daughter cells. In bacteria, plasmids often carry the genes for antibiotic resistance; they are exploited in genetic engineering as the vehicles for introduction of extraneous DNA into cells, to alter the genetic makeup of the cell. The cells thus altered may produce desirable proteins which are extracted and used; in the case of genetically altered plant cells, the altered cells may grow into complete plants with changed properties, as for example, increased resistance to disease.


A small cellular inclusion consisting of a ring of DNA that is not in a chromosome but is capable of autonomous replication


What is a plasmid?

A plasmid is a small, circular DNA molecule independent of chromosomal DNA, primarily found in bacteria.

What is a vector in biotechnology?

A vector is a tool used to transfer genetic material into a host cell, often for research or therapy.

Are plasmids only found in bacteria?

Primarily, yes, but plasmids can also occur in some eukaryotic organisms.

What types of vectors are there?

Vectors include plasmids, viruses, and artificial chromosomes, each suited for different applications.

How are plasmids used in genetic engineering?

Plasmids are modified to carry foreign genes into cells for research, production of proteins, or therapeutic purposes.

Can plasmids be used as vectors?

Yes, plasmids are commonly used as vectors in molecular biology for gene cloning and manipulation.

How do vectors work in gene therapy?

Vectors carry therapeutic genes into patient cells to treat genetic disorders or diseases.

Can plasmids carry any gene?

Plasmids have a limited capacity, but can be engineered to carry specific genes for certain applications.

How do viral vectors differ from plasmid vectors?

Viral vectors can infect host cells and are often used in gene therapy, while plasmid vectors are used more in research and cloning.

Can plasmids affect human health?

Indirectly, yes, as they can carry genes that contribute to bacterial resistance or virulence, impacting treatments.

Do plasmids have a natural function?

Yes, plasmids often carry genes that confer advantages like antibiotic resistance to bacteria.

Are all vectors derived from plasmids?

No, not all vectors are derived from plasmids; they can also be based on viruses or synthetic constructs.

Can all vectors replicate independently?

No, not all vectors can replicate independently; it depends on their type and design.

Can vectors target specific cells?

Yes, vectors, especially viral vectors, can be engineered to target specific cell types in therapies.

What future applications do plasmids and vectors hold?

They hold potential in advanced genetic research, personalized medicine, and the development of novel therapies.

What makes vectors essential in biotechnology?

Vectors are crucial for introducing new DNA into cells, enabling genetic studies and the development of treatments.

What safety concerns exist with vectors in gene therapy?

Safety concerns include potential immune reactions, insertional mutagenesis, and control over gene expression.

How are plasmids isolated for use as vectors?

Plasmids are isolated from bacterial cells and then modified for specific purposes in laboratories.

Are vectors always artificial?

No, vectors can be natural, like viruses, or artificially constructed, like plasmids.

What is the role of plasmids in antibiotic resistance?

Plasmids can carry antibiotic resistance genes, which can be transferred between bacteria, contributing to resistance.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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