Theory of Supercoiled Elastic Rings with Self-Contact and Its Application to DNA Plasmids

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Methods are presented for obtaining exact analytical representations of supercoiled equilibrium configurations of impenetrable elastic rods of circular cross-section that have been pretwisted and closed to form rings, and a discussion is given of applications in the theory of the elastic rod model for DNA. When, as here, self-contact is taken into account, and the rod is assumed to be inextensible, intrinsically straight, transversely isotropic, and homogeneous, the important parameters in the theory are the excess link Δℒ (a measure of the amount the rod was twisted before its ends were joined), the ratio ω of the coefficients of torsional and flexural rigidity, and the ratio d of cross-sectional diameter to the length of the axial curve C. Solutions of the equations of equilibrium are given for cases in which self-contact occurs at isolated points and along intervals. Bifurcation diagrams are presented as graphs of Δℒ versus the writhe of C and are employed for analysis of the stability of equilibrium configurations. It is shown that, in addition to primary, secondary, and tertiary branches that arise by successive bifurcations from the trivial branch made up of configurations for which the axial curve is a circle, there are families of equilibrium configurations that are isolas in the sense that they are not connected to bifurcation branches by paths of equilibrium configurations compatible with the assumed impenetrability of the rod. Each of the isolas found to date is connected to a bifurcation branch by a path which, although made up of solutions of the governing equations, contains regions on which the condition of impenetrability does not hold.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.