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

orming rod-shaped aggregates that could then behave like much longer segments of DNA. The sticking was a result of small, oily patches found on the ends of the short DNA segments that help them adhere to each other in a reversible way -- much like magnetic buttons -- as they expelled water in between them, Clark said.

A key characterization technique employed was X-ray microbeam diffraction combined with in-situ optical microscopy, carried out with researchers from Argonne and Brookhaven National Laboratories. The team using a machine called the Argonne Advanced Photon Source synchrotron that enabled probing of the nano DNA molecular organization in single liquid crystal orientation domains only a few microns in size. The experiments provided direct evidence for the columnar stacking of the nano DNA pieces in a fluid liquid crystal phase.

The key observation with respect to early life is that this aggregation of nano DNA strands is possible only if they form duplexes, Clark said. In a sample of chains in which the bases dont match and the chains cant form helical duplexes, we did not observe liquid crystal ordering.

Subsequent tests by the team involved mixed solutions of complementary and noncomplementary DNA segments, said Clark. The results indicated that essentially all of the complementary DNA bits condensed out in the form of liquid crystal droplets, physically separating them from the noncomplementary DNA segments.

We found this to be a remarkable result, Clark said. It means that small molecules with the ability to pair up the right way can seek each other out and collect together into drops that are internally self-organized to facilitate the growth of larger pairable molecules.

In essence, the liquid crystal phase condensation selects the appropriate molecular components, and with the right chemistry would evolve larger molecules tuned to stabilize the liquid crystal phase. If this is correct, the
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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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