Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Neutron scattering confirms DNA is as stretchy as nylon

Date:
September 8, 2011
Source:
Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL)
Summary:
Neutron scientists have measured how fast sound travels along DNA to determine its ‘stiffness’. These findings help to explain how DNA folds, coils and denatures.

Neutron scientists at the ILL have measured how fast sound travels along DNA to determine its 'stiffness'. These findings help to explain how DNA folds, coils and denatures.

Related Articles


Researchers at the Institut Laue-Langevin have used neutron scattering to determine the structural elasticity of DNA and account for the wide variety of values obtained from previous measurements. Their results, published in Physical Review Letters, help explain how DNA can bend and split in order to establish traits in all living organisms and pass these traits on from one generation to the next.

The double helix structure of DNA is constantly twisted, bent and stretched inside the cell. It is DNA's response to this pressure, based on its fundamental structural properties, that allows it to carry out two of its primary biological functions.

  • Replication -- how DNA makes copies of itself that is the basis for passing on traits from one generation to the next
  • Transcription -- the process by which genetic information is copied from DNA to RNA that represents the first step towards gene expression, where information in a gene is used to develop the molecular tools needed for life

Measurements of DNA elasticity in artificial solutions that attempt to recreate conditions inside a cell have been made before and have delivered results that indicate a flexible DNA structure. However these results vary by an order of magnitude, between 0.3 to 3 N/m. They are also two orders of magnitude lower than earlier figures determined from sound velocity measurements.

At ILL, the team used neutron scattering to measure the structural flexibility of the molecule and determined a force constant of 83 N/m that is consistent with the 'stiffer' sound velocity measurements. This value is roughly equivalent to that of the nylon, commonly used in textiles.

These latest measurements were made on 'wet-spun' samples of DNA, wound onto a bobbin. The samples were then placed in the Institute's brand new IN5 neutron scattering spectrometer. IN5 uses a 30m2 detector while ILL's exceptionally high neutron flux offers an energy resolution an order of magnitude better than in previous X-ray measurements.

With the DNA inside the instrument, the team measured how the frequency of sound waves running along the double helix structure changed with their wavelength. "We are essentially measuring the speed of sound in DNA which gives you a direct measurement of its structural flexibility," explains Professor Mark Johnson, a physicist at ILL.

Using computer simulations of DNA stretching, Johnson and his team were also able to account for the wide range of previously reported values, both within the solution based measurements, and between these values and their own.

The team point to the influence of the solution itself, composed of charged ions like lithium and sodium in water, which mimics the conditions inside the cell. The ions, alongside the water molecules are able to get between the DNA atoms and influence its stiffness.

In the solution based measurements, the solvent molecules and ions can adapt to the DNA structure as it is stretched, making it seem softer. In the neutron scattering measurements, the time available for the water based solution to get in amongst the DNA atoms and lessen the stiffness is reduced. This therefore produces a higher force constant value than if the DNA is stretched slowly.

"Quantifying the molecular elasticity of DNA is fundamental to our understanding of its biological functions," says Johnson. "With some debate in biological circles as to the exact wetness of the inside of the cell, we have established an upper limit on how stretchy DNA can be before it denatures and comes apart."

The high force constant determined at ILL backs up recent work on the overstretching of DNA. The double helix structure has been shown to readily unwind and unzip in response to tension inside the cell because its inbuilt structural stiffness prevents the double-strand DNA molecule from extending.

Dr Lambert van Eijck, one of the lead authors, from Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands: "Our findings support increasing evidence that suggests DNA's stiffness is an important factor in how it is stored in cells and then unzips, starting the replication process that drives genetic inheritance. The experiments and calculations performed in this work determine the intrinsic stiffness of DNA and highlight the influence of solvent molecules and ions in making the DNA softer.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. L. van Eijck, F. Merzel, S. Rols, J. Ollivier, V. Forsyth, M. Johnson. Direct Determination of the Base-Pair Force Constant of DNA from the Acoustic Phonon Dispersion of the Double Helix. Physical Review Letters, 2011; 107 (8) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.088102

Cite This Page:

Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL). "Neutron scattering confirms DNA is as stretchy as nylon." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908091024.htm>.
Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL). (2011, September 8). Neutron scattering confirms DNA is as stretchy as nylon. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908091024.htm
Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL). "Neutron scattering confirms DNA is as stretchy as nylon." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908091024.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) Take a stab at this -- stunt video shows a lamb chop's journey from an east London restaurant over 30 kilometers into space. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cambodian Capital's Only Working Elephant to Retire in Jungle

Cambodian Capital's Only Working Elephant to Retire in Jungle

AFP (Nov. 25, 2014) Phnom Penh's only working elephant was blessed by a crowd of chanting Buddhist monks Tuesday as she prepared for a life of comfortable jungle retirement after three decades of giving rides to tourists. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Buzz60 (Nov. 24, 2014) A Swedish Adventure racing team travels to try and win a world title, but comes home with something way better: a stray dog that joined the team for much of the grueling 430-mile race. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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