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First images of DNA’s double helix in the molecule’s natural environment


Berlin, Germany – The first visualization of the DNA double helix in water was recently reported in the publication Nano Letters. Dr Bart Hoogenboom, a lecturer at the London Nanotechnology Centre and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London. His main research interest is where nanotechnology tools may be used to study and manipulate single biomolecules.

He applies Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), as the only instrument that provides ~1 nm spatial resolution on large biomolecules that are “alive”, or in more scientific terms, they are still functional and may be studied in the natural environment, i.e. aqueous salt solution.

Dr Hoogenboom’s laboratory collaborates with JPK Instruments, a manufacturer of nanoanalytic instrumentation for research in life sciences and soft matter, to look at ways to push instrumentation to new limits of resolution and imaging. “The resolution obtained on DNA is an example of our success in extending the capabilities of AFM instrumentation. Most present-day microscopes do not achieve any higher resolution on DNA than was achieved with the first AFM experiments in the early 1990s. There are a few earlier reports of observations of the periodicity of the DNA helix along its longitudinal axis. The distinctive feature of our recent results is the visualisation of both DNA strands in the double helix. It is not new that DNA is a double helix, but about 60 years after its discovery, it is the first time that we see it in the molecule’s natural, aqueous environment.”

The paper may be found online at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl301857p