Sequence-dependent mechanics of single DNA molecules

Nat Struct Biol. 1999 Apr;6(4):346-9. doi: 10.1038/7582.


Atomic force microscope-based single-molecule force spectroscopy was employed to measure sequence-dependent mechanical properties of DNA by stretching individual DNA double strands attached between a gold surface and an AFM tip. We discovered that in lambda-phage DNA the previously reported B-S transition, where 'S' represents an overstretched conformation, at 65 pN is followed by a nonequilibrium melting transition at 150 pN. During this transition the DNA is split into single strands that fully recombine upon relaxation. The sequence dependence was investigated in comparative studies with poly(dG-dC) and poly(dA-dT) DNA. Both the B-S and the melting transition occur at significantly lower forces in poly(dA-dT) compared to poly(dG-dC). We made use of the melting transition to prepare single poly(dG-dC) and poly(dA-dT) DNA strands that upon relaxation reannealed into hairpins as a result of their self-complementary sequence. The unzipping of these hairpins directly revealed the base pair-unbinding forces for G-C to be 20 +/- 3 pN and for A-T to be 9 +/- 3 pN.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage lambda / genetics
  • Base Pairing
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA, Single-Stranded / chemistry
  • DNA, Viral / chemistry
  • Gold
  • Mechanics
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods
  • Nucleotides / chemistry*
  • Spectrum Analysis / methods
  • Thermodynamics


  • DNA, Single-Stranded
  • DNA, Viral
  • Nucleotides
  • Gold
  • DNA