Statistical and Biological Physics

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Nanopore Translocation Dynamics of Structured Polynucleotides

Nanopore translocation experiments are increasingly applied to probe the secondary structures of RNA and DNA molecules. We report two vital steps toward establishing nanopore translocation as a tool for the systematic and quantitative analysis of polynucleotide folding: (i) Using α-hemolysin pores and a diverse set of different DNA hairpins, we demonstrate that backward nanopore force spectroscopy is particularly well suited for quantitative analysis. In contrast to forward translocation from the vestibule side of the pore, backward translocation times do not appear to be significantly affected by pore-DNA interactions. (ii) We develop and verify experimentally a versatile mesoscopic theoretical framework for the quantitative analysis of translocation experiments with structured polynucleotides. The underlying model is based on sequence-dependent free energy landscapes constructed using the known thermodynamic parameters for polynucleotide basepairing. This approach limits the adjustable parameters to a small set of sequence-independent parameters. After parameter calibration, the theoretical model predicts the translocation dynamics of new sequences. These predictions can be leveraged to generate a baseline expectation even for more complicated structures where the assumptions underlying the one-dimensional free energy landscape may no longer be satisfied. Taken together, backward translocation through α-hemolysin pores combined with mesoscopic theoretical modeling is a promising approach for label-free single-molecule analysis of DNA and RNA folding.