Virtually all colicins are carried on plasmids. There are two general classes of colicinogenic plasmids, large, low-copy number plasmids, and small high copy number plasmids. The larger plasmids carry other genes as well as the colicin operon. The colicin operons are generally organized with several major genes. These include an immunity gene, a colicin structural gene, and a BRP (bacteriocin release protein), or lysis, gene. The immunity gene is often produced constitutively, while the BRP is generally produced only as a read-through of the stop codon on the colicin structural gene. The colicin itself is repressed by the SOS response and may be regulated in other ways as well.
Research indicates that retaining the colicin plasmid is very important for cells that live with their relatives, because if a cell loses the immunity gene, it quickly becomes subject to destruction by circulating colicin. At the same time, colicin is only released from a producing cell by the use of the lysis protein, which results in that cell's death. This suicidal production mechanism would appear to be very costly, except for the fact that it is regulated by the SOS response, which responds to significant DNA damage. In short, colicin production may only occur in terminally-ill cells. Still these matters require further research.