Because of its applicability to biological specimens (nonconductors), a single-molecule-imaging technique, atomic force microscopy (AFM), has been particularly powerful for visualizing and analyzing complex biological processes. Comparative analyses based on AFM observation revealed that the bacterial nucleoids and human chromatin were constituted by a detergent/salt-resistant 30-40-nm fiber that turned into thicker fibers with beads of 70-80 nm diameter. AFM observations of the 14-kbp plasmid and 110-kbp F plasmid purified from Escherichia coli demonstrated that the 70-80-nm fiber did not contain a eukaryotic nucleosome-like "beads-on-a-string" structure. Chloroplast nucleoid (that lacks bacterial-type nucleoid proteins and eukaryotic histones) also exhibited the 70-80-nm structural units. Interestingly, naked DNA appeared when the nucleoids from E. coli and chloroplast were treated with RNase, whereas only 30-nm chromatin fiber was released from the human nucleus with the same treatment. These observations suggest that the 30-40-nm nucleoid fiber is formed with a help of nucleoid proteins and RNA in E. coli and chroloplast, and that the eukaryotic 30-nm chromatin fiber is formed without RNA. On the other hand, the 70-80-nm beaded structures in both E. coli and human are dependent on RNA.
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