To explain how daughter chromosomes are separated into discrete nucleoids and why chromosomes are partitioned with pole preferences, I propose that differential gene expression occurs during DNA replication in Escherichia coli. This differential gene expression means that the daughter chromosomes have different patterns of gene expression and that cell division is not a simple process of binary fission. Differential gene expression arises from autocatalytic gene expression and creates a separate proteolipid domain around each developing chromosome via the coupled transcription-translation–insertion of proteins into membranes (transertion). As these domains are immiscible, daughter chromosomes are simultaneously replicated and separated into discrete nucleoids. I also propose that the partitioning relationship between chromosome age and cell age arises because the poles of cells have a proteolipid composition that favours transertion from one nucleoid rather than from the other. This hypothesis forms part of an ensemble of related hypotheses which attempt to explain cell division, differentiation and wall growth in bacteria in terms of the physical properties and interactions of the principal constituents of cells.