The development and assessment of a prediction method for gel retardation and sequence dependent curvature of DNA based on dinulcleotide step parameters are described. The method is formulated using the Babcock-Olson equations for base pair step geometry (1) and employs Monte Carlo simulated annealing for parameter optimization against experimental data. The refined base pair step parameters define a stuctural construct which, when the width of observed parameter distributions is taken into account, is consistent with the results of DNA oligonucleotide crystal structures. The predictive power of the method is demonstrated and tested via comparisons with DNA bending data on sets of sequences not included in the training set, including A-tracts with and without periodic helix phasing, phased A4T4 and T4A4 motifs, a sequence with a phased GGGCCC motif, some "unconventional" helix phasing sequences, and three short fragments of kinetoplast DNA from Crithidia fasiculata that exhibit significantly different behavior on non-denaturing polyacrylamide gels. The nature of the structural construct produced by the methodology is discussed with respect to static and dynamic models of structure and representations of bending and bendability. An independent theoretical account of sequence dependent chemical footprinting results is provided. Detailed analysis of sequences with A-tract induced axis bending forms the basis for a critical discussion of the applicability of wedge models,junction models and non A-tract, general sequence models for understanding the origin of DNA curvature at the molecular level.