Something about nature loves a helix, the ubiquitous spiral shape taken on by DNA and many other molecules found in the cells of living creatures. The shape is so useful that, while researching the means of creating self-assembling artificial helices, physicists at the University of Pennsylvania believe that they have come across a plausible mathematical reason for why the helical shape is so common. Their findings appear in the Feb. 18 issue of the journal Science.
"The classic answer is that helices are helical because the shape is dictated by bonds between molecules. But that only answers how a helix is formed and not why they are that shape," said Randall Kamien, a professor in Penn’s Department of Astronomy and Physics. "It turns out that a helix, essentially, is a great way to bunch up a very long molecule, such as DNA, in a crowded place, such as a cell."
In the dense environment of the cell, long molecular chains frequently adopt ordered helical conformations. Not only does this enable information to be tightly packed, as in DNA, but it also forms a surface that allows molecules, such as the machines that enable DNA transcription and repair, to grapple on to it at regular intervals.
Greg Lester | EurekAlert!
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