Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Unraveling the physics of DNA's double helix

13.07.2007
Researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering have uncovered a missing link in scientists' understanding of the physical forces that give DNA its famous double helix shape.

"The stability of DNA is so fundamental to life that it's important to understand all factors," said Piotr Marszalek, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials sciences at Duke. "If you want to create accurate models of DNA to study its interaction with proteins or drugs, for example, you need to understand the basic physics of the molecule. For that, you need solid measurements of the forces that stabilize DNA."

In a study published online by Physical Review Letters on July 5, Marszalek's team reports the first direct measurements of the forces within single strands of DNA that wind around each other in pairs to form the complete, double-stranded molecules. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Each DNA strand includes a sugar and phosphate "backbone" attached to one of four bases, which encode genetic sequences. The strength of the interactions within individual strands comes largely from the chemical attraction between the stacked bases. But the integrity of double-stranded DNA depends on both the stacking forces between base units along the length of the double helix and on the pairing forces between complementary bases, which form the rungs of the twisted ladder.

Earlier studies have focused more attention on the chemical bonds between opposing bases, measuring their strength by "unzipping" the molecules' two strands, Marszalek said. Studies of intact DNA make it difficult for researchers to separate the stacking from the pairing forces.

To get around that problem in the new study, the Duke team used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to capture the "mechanical fingerprint" of the attraction between bases within DNA strands. The bonds within the molecules' sugar and phosphate backbones remained intact and therefore had only a minor influence on the force measurements, Marszalek said.

They tugged on individual strands that were tethered at one end to gold and measured the changes in force as they pulled. The AFM technique allows precise measurements of forces within individual molecules down to one pico-Newton--a trillionth of a Newton. For a sense of scale, the force of gravity on a two-liter bottle of soda is about 20 Newtons, Marszalek noted.

They captured the range of stacking forces by measuring two types of synthetic DNA strands: some made up only of the base thymine, which is known to have the weakest attraction between stacked units, and some made up only of the base adenine, known to have the strongest stacking forces. Because of those differences in chemical forces, the two types of single-stranded DNA take on different structures, Marszalek said. Single strands of adenine coil in a fairly regular fashion to form a helix of their own, while thymine chains take on a more random shape.

The pure adenine strands exhibited an even more complex form of elasticity than had been anticipated, the researchers reported. As they stretched the adenine chains with increasing force, the researchers noted two places—at 23 and 113 pico-Newtons--where their measurements leveled off.

"Those plateaus reflect the breaking and unfolding of the helix," Marszalek explained. With no bonds between bases to break, the thymine chains' showed little resistance to extension and no plateau.

Based on the known structure of the single stranded DNA molecules, they had expected to see only one such plateau as the stacking forces severed. Exactly what happens at the molecular level at each of the two plateaus will be the subject of continued investigation, he said.

Kendall Morgan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.duke.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas

nachricht Calculating quietness
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>