Several types of circular DNA molecules are now known. These are classified as single-stranded rings, covalently closed duplex rings, and weakly bonded duplex rings containing an interruption in one or both strands. Single rings are exemplified by the viral DNA from ϕX174 bacteriophage. Duplex rings appear to exist in a twisted configuration in neutral salt solutions at room temperature. Examples of such molecules are the DNA's from the papova group of tumor viruses and certain intracellular forms of ϕX and λ-DNA. These DNA's have several common properties which derive from the topological requirement that the winding number in such molecules is invariant. They sediment abnormally rapidly in alkaline (denaturing) solvents because of the topological barrier to unwinding. For the same basic reason these DNA's are thermodynamically more stable than the strand separable DNA's in thermal and alkaline melting experiments. The introduction of one single strand scission has a profound effect on the properties of closed circular duplex DNA's. In neutral solutions a scission appears to generate a swivel in the complementary strand at a site in the helix opposite to the scission. The twists are then released and a slower sedimenting, weakly closed circular duplex is formed. Such circular duplexes exhibit normal melting behavior, and in alkali dissociate to form circular and linear single strands which sediment at different velocities. Weakly closed circular duplexes containing an interruption in each strand are formed by intramolecular cyclization of viral λ-DNA. A third kind of weakly closed circular duplex is formed by reannealing single strands derived from circularly permuted T2 DNA. These reconstituted duplexes again contain an interruption in each strand though not necessarily regularly spaced with respect to each other.

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