Single molecule statistics and the polynucleotide unzipping transition

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Original entry: Hsin-I Lu, APPHY 225, Fall 2009

"Single molecule statistics and the polynucleotide unzipping transition"

D. K. Lubensky and D. R. Nelson, PRA 65, 031917 (2002)


This paper presents an extensive theoretical investigation of the mechanical unzipping of double-stranded DNA under the influence of an applied force. In the limit of long polymers, there is a thermodynamic unzipping transition at a critical force value of order 10 pN, with different critical behavior for homopolymers and for random heteropolymers. As the applied force approaches the critical value, the double-stranded DNA unravels in a series of discrete, sequence-dependent steps that allow it to reach successively deeper energy minima. Plots of extension versus force thus take the striking form of a series of plateaus separated by sharp jumps. Similar qualitative features should reappear in micromanipulation experiments on proteins and on folded RNA molecules.