Conformational transitions from secondary (e.g., B- to A-form DNA) to higher-order (e.g., coil to globule) transitions play important roles in genome expression and maintenance. Several single-molecule approaches using microfluidic devices have been used to determine the kinetics of DNA chromatin assembly because microfluidic devices can afford stretched DNA molecules through laminar flow and rapid solution exchange. However, some issues, particularly the uncertainty of time 0 in the solution exchange process, are encountered. In such kinetic experiments, it is critical to determine when the target solution front approaches the target DNA molecules. Therefore, a new design for a microfluidic device is developed that enables the instantaneous exchange of solutions in the observation channel, allowing accurate measurements of DNA conformational transitions; stepwise, ethanol-induced conformational transitions are revealed. Although full DNA contraction from coil to globule is observed with >50% ethanol, no outstanding change is observed at concentrations <40% in 10 min. With 50% ethanol solution, the DNA conformational transition passes through two steps: (i) fast and constant-velocity contraction and (ii) relatively slow contraction from the free end. The first process is attributed to the B to A conformational transition by gradual dehydration. The second process is due to the coil-globule transition as the free end of DNA starts the contraction. This globular structure formation counteracts the shear force from the microfluids and decelerates the contraction velocity. This real-time observation system can be applied to the kinetic analysis of DNA conformational transitions such as kinetics of chromatin assembly and gene expression.
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