Encyclopedia of Biophysics

Living Edition
| Editors: Gordon Roberts, Anthony Watts, European Biophysical Societies

UV Absorbance Spectroscopy of Biological Macromolecules

  • Alison Rodger
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-35943-9_780-1



Proteins, DNAs, and RNAs are linear polymers where a limited set of residues are joined together by, respectively, the amide or phosphodiester bonds. The situation is similar for carbohydrates though the linking options are more varied here. To a first approximation, the absorbance spectrum expected for a biomolecule is the sum of the component parts. However, the polymerization process and the packing of the units perturb the spectra as discussed below (Berova et al. 2014; Nordén et al. 2010; Wallace and Janes 2009).

Basic Characteristics

Electronic Spectroscopy of Nucleic Acid Bases

The absorption spectra of nucleic acids in the easily accessible region of the spectrum (down to ∼180 nm) are dominated by ππ* transitions, which are, by symmetry, all polarized in the plane of the bases, so approximately perpendicular to the helix axis in B-DNA. The absorbance spectra of the DNA bases thymine (T), adenine (A), guanine (G),...
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Berova N, Woody RW, Polavarapu PL, Nakanishi K (2014) Comprehensive chiroptical spectroscopy, 2 vol, p1840. ISBN: 978-0-470-64135-4Google Scholar
  2. Chou PJ, Johnson WC (1993) Base inclinations in natural and synthetic DNAs. J Am Chem Soc 115:1205–1214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Clark LB (1977) Electronic spectra of crystalline 9-ethylguanine and guanine hydrochloride. J Am Chem Soc 99:3934–3938CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Holmén A, Broo A, Albinsson B, Nordén B (1997) Electronic transition moments of 2-aminopurine. J Am Chem Soc 119:12240–12250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Kelly SM, Jess TJ, Price NC (2005) How to study proteins by circular dichroism. Biochim Biophys Acta 1751:119–139CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Nordén B, Rodger A, Dafforn TR (2010) Linear dichroism and circular dichroism: a textbook on polarized spectroscopy. Royal Society of Chemistry, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Novros JS, Clark LB (1986) On the electronic spectrum of 1-methyluracil. J Phys Chem 90:5666–5668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Rodger A, Nordén B (1997) Circular dichroism and linear dichroism. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  9. Wallace BA, Janes R (2009) Modern techniques for circular dichroism spectroscopy. IOS Press, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  10. Zaloudek F, Novros JS, Clark LB (1985) The electronic spectrum of cytosine. J Am Chem Soc 107:7344–7351CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© European Biophysical Societies' Association (EBSA) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Molecular SciencesMacquarie UniversityMacquarie ParkAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alison Rodger
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Molecular Sciences, Macquarie UniversityNWSAustralia