Single DNA molecule jamming and history-dependent dynamics during motor-driven viral packaging

Nicholas Keller, Shelley Grimes, Paul J. Jardine, Douglas E. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In many viruses, molecular motors forcibly pack single DNA molecules to near-crystalline density into 1/450-100 nm prohead shells. Unexpectedly, we found that packaging frequently stalls in conditions that induce net attractive DNA-DNA interactions. Here, we present findings suggesting that this stalling occurs because the DNA undergoes a nonequilibrium jamming transition analogous to that observed in many soft-matter systems, such as colloidal and granular systems. Experiments in which conditions are changed during packaging to switch DNA-DNA interactions between purely repulsive and net attractive reveal strongly history-dependent dynamics. An abrupt deceleration is usually observed before stalling, indicating that a transition in DNA conformation causes an abrupt increase in resistance. Our findings suggest that the concept of jamming can be extended to a single polymer molecule. However, compared with macroscopic samples of colloidal particles we find that single DNA molecules jam over a much larger range of densities. We attribute this difference to the nanoscale system size, consistent with theoretical predictions for jamming of attractive athermal particles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-761
Number of pages5
JournalNature Physics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2 2016


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