Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Unraveling The Physics Of DNA's Double Helix

Date:
July 16, 2007
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
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.

DNA double helix.
Credit: National Human Genome Research Institute

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.

Collaborators on the study include research associate Changhong Ke and graduate students Michael Humeniuk of Duke and Hanna S-Gracz of North Carolina State University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Unraveling The Physics Of DNA's Double Helix." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070712134533.htm>.
Duke University. (2007, July 16). Unraveling The Physics Of DNA's Double Helix. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070712134533.htm
Duke University. "Unraveling The Physics Of DNA's Double Helix." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070712134533.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The Wawona Packing Company has issued a voluntary recall on the stone fruit it distributes due to a possible Listeria outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The 83 new genetic markers could open dozens of new avenues for schizophrenia treatment research. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
CDC Head Concerned About a Post-Antibiotic Era

CDC Head Concerned About a Post-Antibiotic Era

AP (July 22, 2014) Sounding alarms about the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, CDC Director Tom Frieden warned Tuesday if the global community does not confront the problem soon, the world will be living in a devastating post-antibiotic era. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins