During the past decade, the issue of strong bending of the double helix has attracted a lot of attention. Here, we overview the major experimental and theoretical developments in the field sorting out reliably established facts from speculations and unsubstantiated claims. Theoretical analysis shows that sharp bends or kinks have to facilitate strong bending of the double helix. It remains to be determined what is the critical curvature of DNA that prompts the appearance of the kinks. Different experimental and computational approaches to the problem are analyzed. We conclude that there is no reliable evidence that any anomalous behavior of the double helix happens when DNA fragments in the range of 100 bp are circularized without torsional stress. The anomaly starts at the fragment length of about 70 bp when sharp bends or kinks emerge in essentially every molecule. Experimental data and theoretical analysis suggest that kinks may represent openings of isolated base pairs, which had been experimentally detected in linear DNA molecules. The calculation suggests that although the probability of these openings in unstressed DNA is close to 10(-5), it increases sharply in small DNA circles reaching 1 open bp per circle of 70 bp.
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