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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Alice Pyne staff webpage:
Pyne-Lab website:
Twitter: @alicepyne
Twitter: @LunchBobs

Topology is about the shape, structure and properties of objects, and in the case of DNA refers to the twisting and tangling (or “supercoiling”) of a DNA strand. Supercoiling massively compacts DNA into a cell nucleus, folding two metres of genetic material into a space much narrower than the width of a human hair! Variations in supercoiled DNA structure affect fundamental biological processes, including DNA replication and transcription.

Dr Alice Pyne and her colleagues are using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), a powerful imaging technique that produces nano-scale topographical images by scanning a sharp tip over a surface (see images below for more information about AFM). This allows them to map the structure, conformation and dynamics of supercoiled DNA. Through this work they aim to understand how topology affects DNA interactions, with the ultimate goal of improving the pharmaceutical pipeline for antibiotic and anticancer drugs.

The FastScan XR AFM in the Henry Royce Institute at the University of Sheffield

Visualisation of how the AFM tip scans the surface of DNA molecules. Image credit: Dr Bernice Akpinar

Images of DNA molecules generated by the AFM

Understanding DNA using Atomic Force Microscopy
Activity recommended for ages 13+

Watch Dr Alice Pyne’s video where she explains how she used Atomic Force Microscopy to examine DNA and help us understand how it works.

Understanding DNA topology with tubing
Activity recommended for ages 13+

Watch Rob Moorehead from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering demonstrate DNA supercoiling with tubing.


Origami DNA
Courtesy of the Wellcome Genome Campus
Activity recommended for ages 13+

Make the double-helix structure of DNA with this origami crafting guide.

Before you start:
Download this origami template (PDF, 70KB) and print out.

If you don’t have a printer you can have a go at drawing and colouring your own on a blank sheet of paper, copying the design from your screen and making sure to differentiate between the thick and thin lines (this will be important for the folding).

Follow these step-step-by-step folding instructions:

Or follow along with this video guide:

Credits: Origami model by Alex Bateman, based on Thoki Yenn's design

Ask Dr Alice Pyne a question about DNA or Atomic Force Microscopy

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