Sharply bent DNA is essential for gene regulation in prokaryotes and is a major feature of eukaryotic nucleosomes and viruses. The explanation normally given for these phenomena is that specific proteins sharply bend DNA by application of large forces, while the DNA follows despite its intrinsic inflexibility. Here we show that DNAs that are 94 bp in length-comparable to sharply looped DNAs in vivo-spontaneously bend into circles. Proteins can enhance the stability of such loops, but the loops occur spontaneously even in naked DNA. Random DNA sequences cyclize 10(2)-10(4) times more easily than predicted from current theories of DNA bending, while DNA sequences that position nucleosomes cyclize up to 10(5) times more easily. These unexpected results establish DNA as an active participant in the formation of looped regulatory complexes in vivo, and they point to a need for new theories of DNA bending.