Statistical properties of metastable intermediates in DNA unzipping

Phys Rev Lett. 2009 Dec 11;103(24):248106. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.103.248106. Epub 2009 Dec 10.


We unzip DNA molecules using optical tweezers and determine the sizes of the cooperatively unzipping and zipping regions separating consecutive metastable intermediates along the unzipping pathway. Sizes are found to be distributed following a power law, ranging from one base pair up to more than a hundred base pairs. We find that a large fraction of unzipping regions smaller than 10 bp are seldom detected because of the high compliance of the released single stranded DNA. We show how the compliance of a single nucleotide sets a limit value around 0.1 N/m for the stiffness of any local force probe aiming to discriminate one base pair at a time in DNA unzipping experiments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • Nucleic Acid Denaturation


  • DNA