Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Physics

First Advisor

Noel Clark

Abstract

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) can form columnar liquid crystal phases in solutions of both short strand, base-pair oligomer solutions, and in solutions of single DNA Nucleoside Tri-Phosphates (dNTP), the molecular constituents that make up helical DNA. The spontaneous phase transition to columnar liquid crystals by the dNTPs occurs without the necessity of the sugar-phosphate backbone of helical DNA, and exhibits key structural elements of biologic nucleic acids including long-range columnar stacking of base-pairs and Watson-Crick selectivity. This spontaneous increase in structural complexity is useful when discussing liquid crystal formation as relevant to the increasingly complexity of prebiotic life.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) and its nucleoside triphosphates (rNTPs) are the primary focus of this work, and they are closely related to DNA and the dNTPs discussed above. RNA differs from DNA in that, rather than containing a deoxyribose sugar, it contains a ribose sugar, which has two hydroxyl groups. These hydroxyl groups make the RNA less stable in solution because of its propensity for hydrolysis. This lack of stability makes RNA difficult to work with, but because it is considered an early precursor of DNA, it is interesting to study. This work is focused on the liquid crystals formed by the complementary rNTPs Cytidine Triphosphate (rCTP) and Guanosine Triphosphate (rGTP). When placed into a solution, these molecules are able to bond with another to form base-pairs. The base-pairs may then stack on top of one another to shield their hydrophobic center from the surrounding solution. These stacks can then orient into a columnar LC phase, where this self-assembly further promotes the stabilization of the aggregates.

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