Research ArticleBIOPHYSICS

Submicrometer elasticity of double-stranded DNA revealed by precision force-extension measurements with magnetic tweezers

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Science Advances  12 Jun 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 6, eaav1697
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav1697


Submicrometer elasticity of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) governs nanoscale bending of DNA segments and their interactions with proteins. Single-molecule force spectroscopy, including magnetic tweezers (MTs), is an important tool for studying DNA mechanics. However, its application to short DNAs under 1 μm is limited. We developed an MT-based method for precise force-extension measurements in the 100-nm regime that enables in situ correction of the error in DNA extension measurement, and normalizes the force variability across beads by exploiting DNA hairpins. The method reduces the lower limit of tractable dsDNA length down to 198 base pairs (bp) (67 nm), an order-of-magnitude improvement compared to conventional tweezing experiments. Applying this method and the finite worm-like chain model we observed an essentially constant persistence length across the chain lengths studied (198 bp to 10 kbp), which steeply depended on GC content and methylation. This finding suggests a potential sequence-dependent mechanism for short-DNA elasticity.

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