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Liquid crystal phases of tiny DNA molecules point up new scenario for first life on Earth
Date:11/22/2007

stal droplets, selectively developing into long molecules.

Liquid crystals -- organic materials related to soap that exhibit both solid and liquid properties -- are commonly used for information displays in computers, flat-panel televisions, cell phones, calculators and watches. Most liquid crystal phase molecules are rod-shaped and have the ability to spontaneously form large domains of a common orientation, which makes them particularly sensitive to stimuli like changes in temperature or applied voltage.

RNA and DNA are chain-like polymers with side groups known as nucleotides, or bases, that selectively adhere only to specific bases on a second chain. Matching, or complementary base sequences enable the chains to pair up and form the widely recognized double helix structure. Genetic information is encoded in sequences of thousands to millions of bases along the chains, which can be microns to millimeters in length.

Such DNA polynucleotides had previously been shown to organize into liquid crystal phases in which the chains spontaneously oriented parallel to each other, he said. Researchers understand the liquid crystal organization to be a result of DNAs elongated molecular shape, making parallel alignment easier, much like spaghetti thrown in a box and shaken would be prone to line up in parallel, Clark said.

The CU-Boulder and University of Milan team began a series of experiments to see how short the DNA segments could be and still show liquid crystal ordering, said Clark. The team found that even a DNA segment as short as six bases, when paired with a complementary segment that together measured just two nanometers long and two nanometers in diameter, could still assemble itself into the liquid crystal phases, in spite of having almost no elongation in shape.

Structural analysis of the liquid crystal phases showed that they appeared because such short DNA duplex pairs were able to stick together end-to-end, f
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Contact: Noel Clark
noel.clark@colorado.edu
303-492-6420
University of Colorado at Boulder  
Source:Eurekalert

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