Understanding DNA damage: New study suggests environment surrounding DNA plays key role in controlling charge transport

The environment surrounding DNA in living cells plays a surprisingly important role in regulating the movement of electronic charge through the life-coding molecule, suggests a paper to be published October 19 in the journal Science. The work could lead to a better understanding of how DNA is damaged by oxidative processes and offer clues to potential DNA applications in nanotechnology.

Based on experimental data, computer-based molecular dynamics simulations and complex electronic structure calculations, the paper is the first to describe how sodium ions could control the migration of electron holes also known as radical cations through DNA. The electron holes, positively charged locations in the DNA structure, are created by normal cellular oxidation processes and everyday events such as exposure to sunlight. Migrating through the DNA to distances up to 30 nanometers away from their site of origin, the electron holes ultimately reach certain sites where they may initiate reactions that can damage the genetic coding.

"Our paper presents a new way of thinking about what controls electrical charge transport in DNA," said Gary Schuster, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology and dean of its College of Sciences. "It is the motions of the water molecules, the sodium ions, the backbone of the DNA and the bases of the DNA that altogether control the movement of charge in the DNA. It's clear that we must consider both the DNA and its environment."

Underlying the charge migration mechanism unveiled in this study are two physical principles: (1) like electrical charges electrostatically repel one another, an

Contact: John Toon
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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