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Self-Entanglement in Biopolymers

Dealing with entangled and knotted strings and ropes, such as ones’ shoelaces, is a common everyday problem, however the same kind of topological complexity occurs on much smaller sized systems, all the way dow to the nanoscale – e.g. in proteins and DNA filaments. As a consequence, entanglements bear profound impact in fields ranging from biology to physics and from engineering to medicine. A central problem for a living cell is to organise its DNA in order to prevent entangled states which would hinder the correct cell division. Contrary to most expectations, on the other hand, knots and links have also been found embedded in the structure of several proteins, where their function and folding mechanisms is far from understood.

The goal of this research line is to characterise the physical mechanisms that underlie the formation of knots in biopolymers, their statistical properties, their interaction, and the impact they have on the overall system. These questions are tackled in different specific, problem-dependent ways, ranging from simplified representations of knotted DNA filaments to multi-scale approaches to the problem of self-entangled protein folding.