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Published March 18, 2003 | Published
Journal Article Open

Mechanics of DNA packaging in viruses


A new generation of single-molecule experiments has opened up the possibility of reexamining many of the fundamental processes of biochemistry and molecular biology from a unique and quantitative perspective. One technique producing a host of intriguing results is the use of optical tweezers to measure the mechanical forces exerted by molecular motors during key processes such as the transcription of DNA or the packing of a viral genome into its capsid. The objective of the current article is to respond to such measurements on viruses and to use the theory of elasticity and a simple model of charge and hydration forces to derive the force required to pack DNA into a viral capsid as a function of the fraction of the viral genome that has been packed. The results are found to be in excellent accord with recent measurements and complement previous theoretical work. Because the packing of DNA in viral capsids occurs under circumstances of high internal pressure, we also compute how much pressure a capsid can sustain without rupture.

Additional Information

© 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences. Communicated by Douglas C. Rees, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, December 23, 2002 (received for review November 15, 2002). Published online before print March 10, 2003, 10.1073/pnas.0737893100. We have learned much about the problems addressed here from Kai Zinn, Jon Widom, Bill Gelbart, Andy Spakowitz, Zhen-Gang Wang, Ken Dill, Carlos Bustamante, Tom Powers, Larry Friedman, Doug Rees, Jack Johnson, Pamela Bjorkman, Paul Wiggins, Steve Williams, Wayne Falk, Adrian Parsegian, Alasdair Steven, and Steve Quake. R.P. and P.K.P. acknowledge support from National Science Foundation Grant 9971922, the National Science Foundation-supported Center for Integrative Multiscale Modeling and Simulation, and the Keck Foundation. J.K. is supported by National Science Foundation Grant DMR-9984471 and is a Cottrell Scholar of Research Corporation.

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