Probing the Conformational Distributions of Sub-Persistence Length DNA
We have measured the bending elasticity of short double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) chains through small-angle X-ray scattering from solutions of dsDNA-linked dimers of gold nanoparticles. This method, which does not require exertion of external forces or binding to a substrate, reports on the equilibrium distribution of bending fluctuations, not just an average value (as in ensemble FRET) or an extreme value (as in cyclization), and in principle provides a more robust data set for assessing the suitability of theoretical models. Our experimental results for dsDNA comprising 42-94 basepairs (bp) are consistent with a simple worm-like chain model of dsDNA elasticity, whose behavior we have determined from Monte Carlo simulations that explicitly represent nanoparticles and their alkane tethers. A persistence length of 50 nm (150 bp) gave a favorable comparison, consistent with the results of single-molecule force-extension experiments on much longer dsDNA chains, but in contrast to recent suggestions of enhanced flexibility at these length scales.