A computational model for the diffusion coefficients of DNA with applications



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The sequence-dependent curvature and flexibility of DNA is critical for many biochemically important processes. However, few experimental methods are available for directly probing these properties at the base-pair level. One promising way to predict these properties as a function of sequence is to model DNA with a set of base-pair parameters that describe the local stacking of the different possible base-pair step combinations. In this dissertation research, we develop and study a computational model for predicting the diffusion coefficients of short, relatively rigid DNA fragments from the sequence and the base-pair parameters. We focus on diffusion coefficients because various experimental methods have been developed to measure them. Moreover, these coefficients can also be computed numerically from the Stokes equations based on the three-dimensional shape of the macromolecule. By comparing the predicted diffusion coefficients with experimental measurements, we can potentially obtain refined estimates of various base-pair parameters for DNA.

Our proposed model consists of three sub-models. First, we consider the geometric model of DNA, which is sequence-dependent and controlled by a set of base-pair parameters. We introduce a set of new base-pair parameters, which are convenient for computation and lead to a precise geometric interpretation. Initial estimates for these parameters are adapted from crystallographic data. With these parameters, we can translate a DNA sequence into a curved tube of uniform radius with hemispherical end caps, which approximates the effective hydrated surface of the molecule. Second, we consider the solvent model, which captures the hydrodynamic properties of DNA based on its geometric shape. We show that the Stokes equations are the leading-order, time-averaged equations in the particle body frame assuming that the Reynolds number is small. We propose an efficient boundary element method with a priori error estimates for the solution of the exterior Stokes equations. Lastly, we consider the diffusion model, which relates our computed results from the solvent model to relevant measurements from various experimental methods. We study the diffusive dynamics of rigid particles of arbitrary shape which often involves arbitrary cross- and self-coupling between translational and rotational degrees of freedom. We use scaling and perturbation analysis to characterize the dynamics at time scales relevant to different classic experimental methods and identify the corresponding diffusion coefficients.

In the end, we give rigorous proofs for the convergence of our numerical scheme and show numerical evidence to support the validity of our proposed models by making comparisons with experimental data.