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Torsional Stiffness of Extended and Plectonemic DNA

Cornell Affiliated Author(s)


X. Gao
Y. Hong
F. Ye
J.T. Inman
M.D. Wang


DNA torsional elastic properties play a crucial role in DNA structure, topology, and the regulation of motor protein progression. However, direct measurements of these parameters are experimentally challenging. Here, we present a constant-extension method integrated into an angular optical trap to directly measure torque during DNA supercoiling. We measured the twist persistence length of extended DNA to be 22 nm under an extremely low force (∼0.02 pN) and the twist persistence length of plectonemic DNA to be 24 nm. In addition, we implemented a rigorous data analysis scheme that bridged our measurements with existing theoretical models of DNA torsional behavior. This comprehensive set of torsional parameters demonstrates that at least 20% of DNA supercoiling is partitioned into twist for both extended DNA and plectonemic DNA. This work provides a new experimental methodology, as well as an analytical and interpretational framework, which will enable, expand, and enhance future studies of DNA torsional properties. © 2021 American Physical Society.

Date Published


Physical Review Letters








Research Area

Group (Lab)

Michelle Wang Group

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