C. H. M. Lima, M. S. Rocha, and E. B. Ramos
In this work, we have measured, by means of optical tweezers, forces acting on depletion-induced DNA condensates due to the presence of the DNA-like charged protein bovine serum albumin (BSA). The stretching and unfolding measurements performed on the semi-flexible DNA chain reveal (1) the softening of the uncondensed DNA contour length and (2) a mechanical behavior strikingly different from those previously observed: the force-extension curves of BSA-induced DNA condensates lack the “saw-tooth” pattern and applied external forces as high as ≈80pN≈80 pN are unable to fully unfold the condensed DNA contour length. This last mechanical experimental finding is in agreement with force-induced “unpacking” detailed Langevin dynamics simulations recently performed by Cortini et al. on model rod-like shaped condensates. Furthermore, a simple thermodynamics analysis of the unfolding process has enabled us to estimate the free energy involved in the DNA condensation: the estimated depletion-induced interactions vary linearly with both the condensed DNA contour length and the BSA concentration, in agreement with the analytical and numerical analysis performed on model DNA condensates. We hope that future additional experiments can decide whether the rod-like morphology is the actual one we are dealing with (e.g. pulling experiments coupled with super-resolution fluorescence microscopy).