Excellent electrophoretic separations of a variety of biological molecules can be accomplished by using uncharged, triblock copolymers as the "gel" media. These copolymers form uncrosslinked, lyotropic liquid crystalline phases of large micelles between which molecules must travel. Unlike crosslinked hydrogels in common use, these alternative media have highly ordered internal structures. Pluronic F127, representative of the copolymer class, contains poly(ethylene oxide) (EO) and poly(propylene oxide) (PO) units with an approximate molecular formula (EO)106(PO)70(EO)106. Concentrated (18-30%) solutions of Pluronic F127 are freely flowing liquids at low temperature (0-5 degrees C) but form gel-like, cubic liquid crystals of large, spherical micelles when warmed. The utility of these media is illustrated by separations of linear, double-stranded DNA up to 3,000 bp long by conventional electrophoresis, and of single-stranded DNAs from 4 to 60 nt long by capillary electrophoresis. Extraordinary separations of supercoiled DNAs were also obtained by capillary electrophoresis. The versatility, availability, and ease of use of Pluronic polymers offer major advantages over conventional media for preparative and high performance analytical separations of nucleic acids and other biomolecules. Mechanisms of molecular transport and separation operating in polymer liquid crystals must differ in fundamental ways from those in crosslinked gels. Lyotropic polymer liquid crystals are unique systems for elucidating mechanisms of macromolecule migration in ordered, dense media, and provide opportunities in separations science.
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