Atomic force microscopy study of DNA flexibility on short length scales: Smooth bending versus kinking

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Abstract

The apparently anomalous flexibility of DNA on short length scales has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. We use atomic force microscopy (AFM) in solution to directly study the DNA bending statistics for small lengths down to one helical turn. The accuracy of experimental estimates could be improved due to a large data volume and a refined algorithm for image processing and measuring bend angles. It is found that, at length scales beyond two helical turns (7 nm), DNA is well described by the harmonic worm-like chain (WLC) model with the bending persistence length of 56 nm. Below this threshold, the AFM data are also described by the WLC model assuming that the accuracy of measured bend angles is limited by the physical width of the double helix. We conclude that the double helical DNA behaves as a uniform elastic rod even at very short length scales. Strong bends due to kinks, melting bubbles and other deviations from the WLC model are statistically negligible.

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Mazur, A. K., & Maaloum, M. (2014). Atomic force microscopy study of DNA flexibility on short length scales: Smooth bending versus kinking. Nucleic Acids Research, 42(22), 14006–14012. https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gku1192

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