Probing the organization and dynamics of two DNA chains trapped in a nanofluidic cavity
Here we present a pneumatically-actuated nanofluidic platform that has the capability of dynamically controlling the confinement environment of macromolecules in solution. Using a principle familiar from classic devices based on soft-lithography, the system uses pneumatic pressure to deflect a thin nitride lid into a nanoslit, confining molecules in an array of cavities embedded in the slit. We use this system to quantify the interactions of multiple confined DNA chains, a key problem in polymer physics with important implications for nanofluidic device performance and DNA partitioning/organization in bacteria and the eukaryotes. In particular, we focus on the problem of two-chain confinement, using differential staining of the chains to independently assess the chain conformation, determine the degree of partitioning/mixing in the cavities and assess coupled diffusion of the chain center-of-mass positions. We find that confinement of more than one chain in the cavity can have a drastic impact on the polymer dynamics and conformation.