Molecular mechanics of DNA processing

DNA is arguably the most celebrated molecule of life. Yet its physical properties are poorly understood and the role of these properties in processes of biological significance is unclear. This thrust of our research program uses computer modeling techniques to characterize physical properties of DNA and elucidate molecular processes that govern DNA replication and repair in bacteria and genome packaging and ejection in viruses.

DNA is one the best-recognized molecules. We are all familiar with the famous double-helix that carries instructions for manufacturing and assembling all the components of a living organism. But DNA is more than just a sequence of letters arranged on rigid ladder rungs; it is a polymer with unusual physical properties that, at times, appear to contradict one another. For example, DNA carries a large negative charge, yet under the right conditions, DNA molecules attract and condense into a compact state. The physical properties of DNA are broadly exploited by cells to perform the molecular feats neccessary for life including storage of information, replication and repair of that information, and regulataion of how that information is expressed. Hence, elucidation of the molecular mechanisms that govern the behavior of DNA in solution comprises a core thrust of our research.