The mechanical properties of DNA play a critical role in many biological functions. For example, DNA packing in viruses involves confining the viral genome in a volume (the viral capsid) with dimensions that are comparable to the DNA persistence length. Similarly, eukaryotic DNA is packed in DNA-protein complexes (nucleosomes), in which DNA is tightly bent around protein spools. DNA is also tightly bent by many proteins that regulate transcription, resulting in a variation in gene expression that is amenable to quantitative analysis. In these cases, DNA loops are formed with lengths that are comparable to or smaller than the DNA persistence length. The aim of this review is to describe the physical forces associated with tightly bent DNA in all of these settings and to explore the biological consequences of such bending, as increasingly accessible by single-molecule techniques.
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