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DNA nanotubes as a versatile tool to study semiflexible polymers

: Schnauß, J.; Glaser, M.; Lorenz, J.S.; Schuldt, C.; Möser, C.; Sajfutdinow, M.; Händler, T.; Käs, J.A.; Smith, D.M.


Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE. Online resource (2017), No.128, Art. e56056
ISSN: 1940-087X
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IZI ()

Mechanical properties of complex, polymer-based soft matter, such as cells or biopolymer networks, can be understood in neither the classical frame of flexible polymers nor of rigid rods. Underlying filaments remain outstretched due to their non-vanishing backbone stiffness, which is quantified via the persistence length (lp), but they are also subject to strong thermal fluctuations. Their finite bending stiffness leads to unique, non-trivial collective mechanics of bulk networks, enabling the formation of stable scaffolds at low volume fractions while providing large mesh sizes. This underlying principle is prevalent in nature (e.g., in cells or tissues), minimizing the high molecular content and thereby facilitating diffusive or active transport. Due to their biological implications and potential technological applications in biocompatible hydrogels, semiflexible polymers have been subject to considerable study. However, comprehensible investigations remained challenging since they relied on natural polymers, such as actin filaments, which are not freely tunable. Despite these limitations and due to the lack of synthetic, mechanically tunable, and semiflexible polymers, actin filaments were established as the common model system. A major limitation is that the central quantity lp cannot be freely tuned to study its impact on macroscopic bulk structures. This limitation was resolved by employing structurally programmable DNA nanotubes, enabling controlled alteration of the filament stiffness. They are formed through tile-based designs, where a discrete set of partially complementary strands hybridize in a ring structure with a discrete circumference. These rings feature sticky ends, enabling the effective polymerization into filaments several microns in length, and display similar polymerization kinetics as natural biopolymers. Due to their programmable mechanics, these tubes are versatile, novel tools to study the impact of lp on the single-molecule as well as the bulk scale. In contrast to actin filaments, they remain stable over weeks, without notable degeneration, and their handling is comparably straightforward.