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Simulations of knotting in confined circular DNA

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3591-3599
Number of pages9
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2008


The packing of DNA inside bacteriophages arguably yields the simplest example of genome organization in living organisms. As an assay of packing geometry, the DNA knot spectrum produced upon release of viral DNA from the P4 phage capsid has been analyzed, and compared to results of simulation of knots in confined volumes. We present new results from extensive stochastic sampling of confined self-avoiding and semiflexible circular chains with volume exclusion. The physical parameters of the chains ( contour length, cross section, and bending rigidity) have been set to match those of P4 bacteriophage DNA. By using advanced sampling techniques, involving multiple Markov chain pressure-driven confinement combined with a thermodynamic reweighting technique, we establish the knot spectrum of the circular chains for increasing confinement up to the highest densities for which available algorithms can exactly classify the knots. Compactified configurations have an enclosing hull diameter similar to 2.5 times larger than the P4 caliper size. The results are discussed in relation to the recent experiments on DNA knotting inside the capsid of a P4 tailless mutant. Our investigation indicates that confinement favors chiral knots over achiral ones, as found in the experiments. However, no significant bias of torus over twist knots is found, contrary to the P4 results. The result poses a crucial question for future studies of DNA packaging in P4: is the discrepancy due to the insufficient confinement of the equilibrium simulation or does it indicate that out-of-equilibrium mechanisms (such as rotation by packaging motors) affect the genome organization, hence its knot spectrum in P4?

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