DNA information: from digital code to analogue structure

A. A. Travers, G. Muskhelishvili, J. M. T. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


The digital linear coding carried by the base pairs in the DNA double helix is now known to have an important component that acts by altering, along its length, the natural shape and stiffness of the molecule. In this way, one region of DNA is structurally distinguished from another, constituting an additional form of encoded information manifest in three-dimensional space. These shape and stiffness variations help in guiding and facilitating the DNA during its three-dimensional spatial interactions. Such interactions with itself allow communication between genes and enhanced wrapping and histone–octamer binding within the nucleosome core particle. Meanwhile, interactions with proteins can have a reduced entropic binding penalty owing to advantageous sequence-dependent bending anisotropy. Sequence periodicity within the DNA, giving a corresponding structural periodicity of shape and stiffness, also influences the supercoiling of the molecule, which, in turn, plays an important facilitating role. In effect, the super-helical density acts as an analogue regulatory mode in contrast to the more commonly acknowledged purely digital mode. Many of these ideas are still poorly understood, and represent a fundamental and outstanding biological question. This review gives an overview of very recent developments, and hopefully identifies promising future lines of enquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2960-2986
Number of pages27
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences
Issue number1969
Early online date21 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2012


  • DNA information
  • DNA stiffness
  • DNA bending
  • DNA supercoiling
  • chromosome structure


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