Discontinuities at the DNA supercoiling transition

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2009 Oct;80(4 Pt 1):040901. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.80.040901. Epub 2009 Oct 15.


While slowly turning the ends of a single molecule of DNA at constant applied force, a discontinuity was recently observed at the supercoiling transition when a small plectoneme is suddenly formed. This can be understood as an abrupt transition into a state in which stretched and plectonemic DNA coexist. We argue that there should be discontinuities in both the extension and the torque at the transition and provide experimental evidence for both. To predict the sizes of these discontinuities and how they change with the overall length of DNA, we organize a phenomenological theory for the coexisting plectonemic state in terms of four parameters. We also test supercoiling theories, including our own elastic rod simulation, finding discrepancies with experiment that can be understood in terms of the four coexisting state parameters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • DNA, Superhelical / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Temperature


  • DNA, Superhelical