Watching DNA at Work

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Science  12 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5408, pp. 1668-1669
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5408.1668

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Building on earlier work that probed the mechanics of DNA molecules by twisting, turning, and stretching them, researchers are now focusing on the molecular machinery of the cell: how proteins work to cut, copy, and splice DNA. The key to manipulating DNA was the development of optical traps, which use tightly focused laser beams to snag tiny particles, as well as related techniques for manipulating tiny objects. Using these and similar tools, researchers are getting a close look at single strands of DNA and their workmate proteins while they are engaged in the business of replication and gene expression. Such work is revealing that DNA's mechanical properties are critical to the way some enzymes work with it, among other insights.