University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Thursday, April 12th 2018
10:10 am:
Biophysics Seminar in 120 PAN
Speaker: Aaron Engelhart, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, University of Minnesota
Subject:  Hold the water! Probing nucleic acid hydration with alternative solvents

Nucleic acids adopt a myriad of roles in life ranging from their well-known role in simple information transfer (in DNA and mRNA) to functional behaviors including catalysis (in ribozymes including the ribosome) and ligand binding (in riboswitches). The folding of these polymers is intimately connected with the environment afforded by the solvent in which they fold: water. Water dictates the folding behavior of nucleic acids in a variety of ways, including hydrophilic interactions (with the phosphate backbone as well as dissolved cations); nonclassical hydrophobic interactions (which promote base stacking); and minor groove binding of water (as well as cations), which has been known since the first atomic-resolution crystal structures of DNA shown by Drew and Dickerson. We recently showed that, remarkably, nucleic acids can form stable secondary structures in an essentially anhydrous solvent - a so-called "deep eutectic solvent" (DES) formed from a 2:1 molar mixture of urea and choline chloride. Despite the absence of water, a range of secondary structures fold in DES. I will discuss our results using alternative solvents to examine the role of hydration in nucleic acid folding.

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