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J Am Chem Soc. 2011 Mar 16;133(10):3219-21. doi: 10.1021/ja108952v. Epub 2011 Jan 5.

Overstretching DNA at 65 pN does not require peeling from free ends or nicks.

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  • 1JILA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA.


DNA exhibits a remarkable mechanical transition where its extension increases by 70% at 65 pN. Notwithstanding more than a decade of experimental and theoretical studies, there remains a significant debate on the nature of overstretched DNA. We developed a topologically closed but rotationally unconstrained DNA assay, which contains no nicks or free ends. DNA in this assay exhibited the canonical overstretching transition at 65 pN but without hysteresis upon retraction (v(stage) = 5 μm/s). Introduction of a controlled nick led to hysteresis in the force-extension curve. Moreover, the degree of hysteresis increased with the number of nicks. Hence, the generation of single-stranded DNA from free ends or nicks is not an obligatory step in overstretching DNA, but rather a consequence.

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