Insights into DNA and Chromatin from Realistic Treatment of the Double Helix

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In addition to the genetic message, DNA base sequence carries a multitude of structural and energetic signals important to its biological packaging and function. The statistical mechanical treatment of chain molecules pioneered by Flory provides the foundation behind methods now used to connect information embedded in the DNA base pairs with macromolecular features of the double helix. In contrast to the original treatment of polymers in terms of their chemical backbones, DNA is described in terms of the orientation and displacement of its base-pair side groups. The approach thus takes account of cross-sections as well as connections of residues along the chain molecule. Subtleties in the disposition of base pairs become particularly significant at long chain lengths when proteins attach to widely spaced sites along the DNA and force the intervening residues into loops. The arrangements of base pairs dictate how the DNA folds and whether the ends of loops lie in correct register with the binding sites on proteins. The Flory-based approach is also useful in interpreting the properties of DNA decorated by nucleosomes - the assemblies of DNA and protein that constitute the fundamental packaging unit of chromatin. The number, spacing, and composition of nucleosomes influences the long-range communication between DNA elements involved in the transcription of genes, forming loops orders of magnitude longer than those adopted by bare DNA. The patterns of nucleosome association that account for the properties of model oligonucleosomes can be used, in turn, to treat even longer fragments of DNA. A nucleosome-level depiction of chromatin reduces the complexity of the system along the same lines as a base-pair-level depiction of DNA. Long polynucleosome constructs exhibit behaviors dependent upon the number of base pairs between successive nucleosomes and ultimately upon DNA base sequence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationACS Symposium Series
PublisherAmerican Chemical Society
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameACS Symposium Series
ISSN (Print)0097-6156
ISSN (Electronic)1947-5918

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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