Elastic Rod Model of a Supercoiled DNA Molecule

Claude Bouchiat 1, Marc Mezard 1, 2, 3

European Physical Journal E (2000) 337-402

We study the elastic behaviour of a supercoiled DNA molecule. The simplest model is that of a rod like chain, involving two elastic constants, the bending and the twist rigidities. We show that this model is singular and needs a small distance cut-off, which is a natural length scale giving the limit of validity of the model, of the order of the double helix pitch. The rod like chain in presence of the cutoff is able to reproduce quantitatively the experimentally observed effects of supercoiling on the elongation-force characteristics, in the small supercoiling regime. An exact solution of the model, using both transfer matrix techniques and its mapping to a quantum mechanics problem, allows to extract, from the experimental data,the value of the twist rigidity. We also analyse the variation of the torque and the writhe to twist ratio versus supercoiling, showing analytically the existence of a rather sharp crossover regime which can be related to the excitation of plectonemic-like structures. Finally we study the extension fluctuations of a stretched and supercoiled DNA molecule, both at fixed torque and at fixed supercoiling angle, and we compare the theoretical predictions to some preliminary experimental data.

  • 1. Laboratoire de Physique Théorique de l'ENS (LPTENS),
    CNRS : UMR8549 – Université Paris VI - Pierre et Marie Curie – Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris - ENS Paris
  • 2. Laboratoire de Physique Théorique et Modèles Statistiques (LPTMS),
    CNRS : UMR8626 – Université Paris XI - Paris Sud
  • 3. Science and Finance, CFM,
    Sciences and Finances, CFM