Supercoiled plasmid DNA is susceptible to fluid stress in large-scale manufacturing processes. A capillary device was used to generate controlled shear conditions and the effects of different stresses on plasmid DNA structure were investigated. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis was employed to characterize the flow environment in the capillary device and different analytical techniques were used to quantify the DNA breakage. It was found that the degradation of plasmid DNA occurred at the entrance of the capillary and that the shear stress within the capillary did not affect the DNA structure. The degradation rate of plasmids was well correlated with the average elongational strain rate or the pressure drop at the entrance region. The conclusion may also be drawn that laminar shear stress does not play a significant role in plasmid DNA degradation. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2007; 97: 1148–1157. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.