The process of DNA condensation into nanometer-scale particles has direct relevance to several fields, including cell biology, virology, and gene delivery for therapeutic purposes. DNA condensation has also attracted the attention of polymer physicists, as the collapse of DNA molecules from solution into well defined particles represents an exquisite example of a polymer phase transition. Here we present a quantitative study of DNA toroids formed by condensation of 3 kb DNA with hexammine cobalt (III). The presence or absence of static loops within this DNA molecule demonstrates the effect of nucleation loop size on toroid dimensions and that nucleation is principally decoupled from toroid growth. A comparison of DNA condensates formed at low ionic strength with those formed in the presence of additional salts (NaCl or MgCl2) shows that toroid thickness is a salt-dependant phenomenon. Together, these results have allowed the development of models for DNA toroid formation in which the size of the nucleation loop directly influences the diameter of the fully formed toroid, whereas solution conditions govern toroid thickness. The data presented illustrate the potential that exists for controlling DNA toroid dimensions. Furthermore, this study provides a set of data that should prove useful as a test for theoretical models of DNA condensation.
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