DNA Hairpin Stabilization on a Hydrophobic Surface



DNA hybridization in the vicinity of surfaces is a fundamental process for self-assembled nanoarrays, nanocrystal superlattices, and biosensors. It is widely recognized that solid surfaces alter molecular forces governing hybridization relative to a bulk solution, and these effects can either favor or disfavor the hybridized state depending on the specific sequence and surface. Results presented here provide new insights into the dynamics of DNA hairpin-coil conformational transitions in the vicinity of hydrophilic oligo(ethylene glycol) (OEG) and hydrophobic trimethylsilane (TMS) surfaces. Single-molecule methods are used to observe the forward and reverse hybridization hairpin-coil transition of adsorbed species while simultaneously measuring molecular surface diffusion in order to gain insight into surface interactions with individual DNA bases. At least 35 000 individual molecular trajectories are observed on each type of surface. It is found that unfolding slows and the folding rate increases on TMS relative to OEG, despite stronger attractions between TMS and unpaired nucleobases. These rate differences lead to near-complete hairpin formation on hydrophobic TMS and significant unfolding on hydrophilic OEG, resulting in the surprising conclusion that hydrophobic surface coatings are preferable for nanotechnology applications that rely on DNA hybridization near surfaces.