In the last two decades, single-molecule force measurements using optical and magnetic tweezers and atomic force spectroscopy have dramatically expanded our knowledge of nucleic acids and proteins. These techniques characterize the force on a biomolecule required to produce a given molecular extension. When stretching long DNA molecules, the observed force–extension relationship exhibits a characteristic plateau at approximately 65 pN where the DNA may be extended to almost twice its B-DNA length with almost no increase in force. In the present review, I describe this transition in terms of the Poland–Scheraga model and summarize recent related studies.

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