Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemical & Biochemical Engineering

First Advisor

Arthi Jayaraman

Second Advisor

Mark Borden

Third Advisor

Charles Musgrave

Fourth Advisor

Theodore Randolph

Fifth Advisor

Daniel Schwartz


Understanding the nanoscale interactions of DNA, a multifunctional biopolymer with sequence-dependent properties, with other biological and synthetic substrates and molecules is essential to advancing these technologies. This doctoral thesis research is aimed at understanding the thermodynamics and molecular-level structure when DNA interacts with proteins, polycations, and functionalized surfaces.

First, we investigate the ability of a DNA damage recognition protein (HMGB1a) to bind to anti-cancer drug-induced DNA damage, seeking to explain how HMGB1a differentiates between the drugs in vivo. Using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations, we show that the structure of the drug-DNA molecule exhibits drug- and base sequence-dependence that explains some of the experimentally observed differential recognition of the drugs in various sequence contexts. Then, we show how steric hindrance from the drug decreases the deformability of the drug-DNA molecule, which decreases recognition by the protein, a concept that can be applied to rational drug design.

Second, we study how polycation architecture and chemistry affect polycation-DNA binding so as to design optimal polycations for high efficiency gene (DNA) delivery. Using a multiscale computational approach involving atomistic and coarse-grained simulations, we examine how rearranging polylysine from a linear to a grafted architecture, and several aspects of the grafted architecture, affect polycation-DNA binding and the structure of polycation-DNA complexes. Next, going beyond lysine we examine how oligopeptide chemistry and sequence in the grafted architecture affects polycation-DNA binding and find that strategic placement of hydrophobic peptides might be used to tailor binding strength.

Third, we study the adsorption and conformations of single-stranded DNA (an amphiphilic biopolymer) on model hydrophilic and hydrophobic surfaces. Short ssDNA oligomers adsorb to both surfaces with similar strength, with the strength of adsorption to the hydrophobic surface depending on the composition of the DNA strands, i.e. purine or pyrimidine bases. Additionally, DNA-surface and DNA-water interactions near the surfaces govern the adsorption. For longer ssDNA oligomers, the effects of surface chemistry and temperature on ssDNA conformations are rather small, but either the hydrophilic surface or increased temperature favor slightly more compact conformations due to energetic and entropic effects, respectively.