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Stretching of single collapsed DNA molecules.

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Abstract

The elastic response of single plasmid and lambda phage DNA molecules was probed using optical tweezers at concentrations of trivalent cations that provoked DNA condensation in bulk. For uncondensed plasmids, the persistence length, P, decreased with increasing spermidine concentration before reaching a limiting value 40 nm. When condensed plasmids were stretched, two types of behavior were observed: a stick-release pattern and a plateau at approximately 20 pN. These behaviors are attributed to unpacking from a condensed structure, such as coiled DNA. Similarly, condensing concentrations of hexaammine cobalt(III) (CoHex) and spermidine induced extensive changes in the low and high force elasticity of lambda DNA. The high force (5-15 pN) entropic elasticity showed worm-like chain (WLC) behavior, with P two- to fivefold lower than in low monovalent salt. At lower forces, a 14-pN plateau abruptly appeared. This corresponds to an intramolecular attraction of 0.083-0.33 kT/bp, consistent with osmotic stress measurements in bulk condensed DNA. The intramolecular attractive force with CoHex is larger than with spermidine, consistent with the greater efficiency with which CoHex condenses DNA in bulk. The transition from WLC behavior to condensation occurs at an extension about 85% of the contour length, permitting looping and nucleation of condensation. Approximately half as many base pairs are required to nucleate collapse in a stretched chain when CoHex is the condensing agent.

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