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Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2002 Mar;65(3 Pt 1):031917. Epub 2002 Mar 6.

Single molecule statistics and the polynucleotide unzipping transition.

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Department of Physics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


We present an extensive theoretical investigation of the mechanical unzipping of double-stranded DNA under the influence of an applied force. In the limit of long polymers, there is a thermodynamic unzipping transition at a critical force value of order 10 pN, with different critical behavior for homopolymers and for random heteropolymers. We extend results on the disorder-averaged behavior of DNA's with random sequences [D. K. Lubensky and D. R. Nelson, Phys. Rev. Lett. 85, 1572 (2000)] to the more experimentally accessible problem of unzipping a single DNA molecule. As the applied force approaches the critical value, the double-stranded DNA unravels in a series of discrete, sequence-dependent steps that allow it to reach successively deeper energy minima. Plots of extension versus force thus take the striking form of a series of plateaus separated by sharp jumps. Similar qualitative features should reappear in micromanipulation experiments on proteins and on folded RNA molecules. Despite their unusual form, the extension versus force curves for single molecules still reveal remnants of the disorder-averaged critical behavior. Above the transition, the dynamics of the unzipping fork is related to that of a particle diffusing in a random force field; anomalous, disorder-dominated behavior is expected until the applied force exceeds the critical value for unzipping by roughly 5 pN.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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