We report on various excitation geometries used in ultrasensitive flow cytometry that yield a linear relation between the fluorescence intensity measured from individual stained DNA fragments and the lengths of the fragments (in base pairs). This linearity holds for DNA samples that exhibit a wide range of conformations. The variety of DNA conformations leads to a distribution of dipole moment orientations for the dye molecules intercalated into the DNA. It is consequently important to use an excitation geometry such that all dye molecules are detected with similar efficiency. To estimate the conformation and the extent of elongation of the stained fragments in the flow, fluorescence polarization anisotropy and autocorrelation measurements were performed. Significant extension was observed for DNA fragments under the flow conditions frequently used for DNA fragment sizing. Classical calculations of the fluorescence emission collected over a finite solid angle are in agreement with the experimental measurements and have confirmed the relative insensitivity to DNA conformation of an orthogonal excitation geometry. Furthermore, the calculations suggested a modified excitation geometry that has increased our sizing resolution.
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