Molecular Weight of DNA
Country: United States
Date: July 2008
How do you determine the molecular weight of DNA? In its
simplest form, what would that weight be?
The most common way to determine the Mw of DNA is to run what's called a
'gel electrophoresis'. The two main words in this are 'gel' and 'electro' --
the 'gel' is a porous material that DNA flows slowly through. The 'electro'
refers to the fact that DNA is charged, so an electric field can be used to
make it move through the gel. The smallest DNA moves the fastest through the
gel, so over time, DNA of different lengths is separated. 'Gel
electrophoresis' is covered many times over all over the web, so I won't
repeat the details here. You can do an internet search to find out all the
details you want (and more). There are other ways to measure DNA Mw as well,
but that's the most common and easiest.
As for DNA's "simplest form", that's a little more difficult to answer. DNA
is a polymer, which means it is a long chain of similar sub-units. In DNA,
the units are called 'nucleotides'. However, a single nucleotide isn't
really the 'simplest form' of DNA because a single nucleotide doesn't really
function as 'DNA'. It takes at least several nucleotides to have any
biological meaning. So it's not that easy to answer what the 'minimum'
molecular weight is. A single nucleotide Mw is around 250Da (it depends on
which nucleotide -- there are several options), but DNA strands can be
millions of nucleotides long. And, DNA can be double-stranded -- in other
words, two strands attach to each other and wrap around each other. This is
the famous 'double-helix' structure of DNA.
Perhaps you could respond and let me know why you are interested in its
molecular weight I can give a more contextual and useful answer to your
Hope this helps,
There are many different ways to determine the molecular weight of DNA. Use a
search engine like Google to learn about them. Every base pair in a DNA molecule
contributes about 600 Daltons (1 Dalton = 1 atomic mass unit) to the molecular
weight of a DNA molecule. If the DNA molecule of E. coli contains about 3
million base pairs, it's molecular weight would be around 1.8 x 109 Daltons.
Molecular weight is the sum of the atomic weights of the constituent atoms.
Ron Baker, Ph.D.
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Update: June 2012