Researchers suggest new mechanism to explain DNA charge transfer process

Charging Through DNA: Researchers Suggest New Mechanism
to Explain DNA Charge Transfer Process

A research team from the Georgia Institute of Technology has proposed a new explanation for how electronic charge transfer occurs in strands of DNA.

In the July 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers report that electrical charge moves through the DNA bases by creating temporary distortions in their structure as the strands naturally flex. The work suggests that the charge transport process is much more complicated than previously believed.

"It's not at all like a conductor or a wire," said Dr. Gary B. Schuster, lead author of the paper and dean of Georgia Tech's College of Sciences. "We think this answers the question of how charge transfers through DNA, at least in a broad-brush way."

The new charge transport model, dubbed "phonon-assisted polaron-like hopping," could help scientists better understand the mechanisms by which DNA is damaged and repaired. It could also lead to development of new diagnostic techniques based on recognition of charge transfer characteristics, and could one day open up applications for one-dimensional DNA "wires" able to assemble themselves into tiny circuits for micromachines.

Schuster compares the charge transport mechanism to the movement of a "Slinky," a child's toy that consists of a large spring that compresses and expands.

"When you inject a charge into DNA, the DNA responds by changing its structure to accommodate that charge," he explained. "That change in structure distributes the charge over several of the base pairs in the DNA. That creates a local distortion in the DNA. That local distortion, just like the compression in the Slinky toy, can move in the DNA as the structure moves normally in stretching, bending and rotating."

The distortion, known as a polaron, can carry the charge a distance of up to a few hundred

Contact: John Toon
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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