Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Baylor researchers unravel mystery of DNA conformation

An iconic photograph ( of Nobel laureates Drs. Francis Crick and James Watson show the pair discussing with a rigid model of the famous double helix.

The interaction represented produced the famous explanation of the structure of DNA, but the model pictured is a stiff snapshot of idealized DNA.

As researchers from Baylor College of Medicine ( and the University of Houston ( note in a report that appears online in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, DNA is not a stiff or static. It is dynamic with high energy. It exists naturally in a slightly underwound state and its status changes in waves generated by normal cell functions such as DNA replication, transcription, repair and recombination. DNA is also accompanied by a cloud of counterions (charged particles that neutralize the genetic material's very negative charge) and, of course, the protein macromolecules that affect DNA activity.

"Many models and experiments have been interpreted with the static model," said Dr. Lynn Zechiedrich (, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology at BCM and a senior author of the report. "But this model does not allow for the fact that DNA in real life is transiently underwound and overwound in its natural state."

DNA appears a perfect spring that can be stretched and then spring back to its original conformation. How far can you stretch it before something happens to the structure and it cannot bounce back? What happens when it is exposed to normal cellular stresses involved in doing its job? That was the problem that Zechiedrich and her colleagues tackled.

Their results also addresses a question posed by another Nobel laureate, the late Dr. Linus Pauling, who asked how the information encoded by the bases could be read if it is sequestered inside the DNA molecular with phosphate molecules on the outside.

It's easy to explain when the cell divides because the double-stranded DNA also divides at the behest of a special enzyme, making its genetic code readily readable.

"Many cellular activities, however, do not involve the separation of the two strands of DNA," said Zechiedrich.

To unravel the problem, former graduate student, Dr. Graham L. Randall, mentored jointly by Zechiedrich and Dr. B. Montgomery Pettitt ( of UH, simulated 19 independent DNA systems with fixed degrees of underwinding or overwinding, using a special computer analysis started by Petttitt.

They found that when DNA is underwound in the same manner that you might underwind a spring, the forces induce one of two bases – adenine or thymine – to "flip out" of the sequence, thus relieving the stress that the molecule experiences.

"It always happens in the underwound state," said Zechiedrich. "We wanted to know if torsional stress was the force that accounted for the base flipping that others have seen occur, but for which we had no idea where the energy was supplied to do this very big job."

When the base flips out, it relieves the stress on the DNA, which then relaxes the rest of the DNA not involved in the base flipping back to its "perfect spring" state.

When the molecule is overwound, it assumes a "Pauling-like DNA" state in which the DNA turns itself inside out to expose the bases -- much in the way Pauling had predicted.

Zechiedrich and her colleagues theorize that the base flipping, denaturation, and Pauling-like DNA caused by under- and overwinding allows DNA to interact with proteins during processes such as replication, transcription and recombination and allows the code to be read. And back to the idea of the "perfect spring" behavior of the DNA helix - "This notion is entirely wrong," said Zechiedrich. "Underwinding is not equal and opposite to overwinding, as predicted, not by a long shot, that's really a cool result that Graham got."

Support for this work came from the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Keck Center for Interdisciplinary Bioscience Training of the Gulf Coast Consortia. The computations were performed in part using the Teragrid and the Molecular Science Computing 85 Facility in the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research and located at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Glenna Picton | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>