Review Article

The statistical segment length of DNA: Opportunities for biomechanical modeling in polymer physics and next-generation genomics

[+] Author and Article Information
Kevin D. Dorfman

Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, 421 Washington Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455

1Corresponding author.

ASME doi:10.1115/1.4037790 History: Received May 04, 2017; Revised August 16, 2017


The development of bright bis-intercalating dyes for DNA in the 1990s, most notably YOYO-1, revolutionized the field of polymer physics in the ensuing years. These dyes, in conjunction with modern molecular biology techniques, permit the facile observation of polymer dynamics via fluorescence microscopy, and thus direct tests of different theories of polymer dynamics. At the same time, they have played a key role in advancing an emerging next-generation method known as genome mapping in nanochannels. The effect of intercalation on the bending energy of DNA, as embodied by a change in its statistical segment length (or, alternatively, its persistence length) has been the subject of significant controversy. The precise value of the statistical segment length is critical for the proper interpretation of polymer physics experiments, and controls the phenomena underlying the aforementioned genomics technology. In this Perspective, we briefly review the model of DNA as a wormlike chain and a trio of methods (light scattering, optical or magnetic tweezers, and atomic force microscopy) that have been used to determine the statistical segment length of DNA. We then outline the disagreement in the literature over the role of bis-intercalation on the bending energy of DNA, and how a multi-scale biomechanical approach could provide an important model for this scientifically and technologically relevant problem.

Copyright (c) 2017 by ASME
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