A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
Combining Single-molecule Manipulation and Imaging for the Study of Protein-DNA Interactions
Institutions: University of Florence, University of Oxford, University of Florence, University of Florence, National Institute of Optics-National Research Council, Italy, International Center of Computational Neurophotonics.
The paper describes the combination of optical tweezers and single molecule fluorescence detection for the study of protein-DNA interaction. The method offers the opportunity of investigating interactions occurring in solution (thus avoiding problems due to closeby surfaces as in other single molecule methods), controlling the DNA extension and tracking interaction dynamics as a function of both mechanical parameters and DNA sequence. The methods for establishing successful optical trapping and nanometer localization of single molecules are illustrated. We illustrate the experimental conditions allowing the study of interaction of lactose repressor (lacI), labeled with Atto532, with a DNA molecule containing specific target sequences (operators) for LacI binding. The method allows the observation of specific interactions at the operators, as well as one-dimensional diffusion of the protein during the process of target search. The method is broadly applicable to the study of protein-DNA interactions but also to molecular motors, where control of the tension applied to the partner track polymer (for example actin or microtubules) is desirable.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, Single molecule biophysics, Optical tweezers, fluorescence microscopy, DNA binding proteins, lactose repressor, microfluidics
Measurement of Tension Release During Laser Induced Axon Lesion to Evaluate Axonal Adhesion to the Substrate at Piconewton and Millisecond Resolution
Institutions: National Research Council of Italy, Università di Firenze, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
The formation of functional connections in a developing neuronal network is influenced by extrinsic cues. The neurite growth of developing neurons is subject to chemical and mechanical signals, and the mechanisms by which it senses and responds to mechanical signals are poorly understood. Elucidating the role of forces in cell maturation will enable the design of scaffolds that can promote cell adhesion and cytoskeletal coupling to the substrate, and therefore improve the capacity of different neuronal types to regenerate after injury.
Here, we describe a method to apply simultaneous force spectroscopy measurements during laser induced cell lesion. We measure tension release in the partially lesioned axon by simultaneous interferometric tracking of an optically trapped probe adhered to the membrane of the axon. Our experimental protocol detects the tension release with piconewton sensitivity, and the dynamic of the tension release at millisecond time resolution. Therefore, it offers a high-resolution method to study how the mechanical coupling between cells and substrates can be modulated by pharmacological treatment and/or by distinct mechanical properties of the substrate.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Biophysics, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Engineering (General), Life Sciences (General), Physics (General), Axon, tension release, Laser dissector, optical tweezers, force spectroscopy, neurons, neurites, cytoskeleton, adhesion, cell culture, microscopy
Studying DNA Looping by Single-Molecule FRET
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Bending of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) is associated with many important biological processes such as DNA-protein recognition and DNA packaging into nucleosomes. Thermodynamics of dsDNA bending has been studied by a method called cyclization which relies on DNA ligase to covalently join short sticky ends of a dsDNA. However, ligation efficiency can be affected by many factors that are not related to dsDNA looping such as the DNA structure surrounding the joined sticky ends, and ligase can also affect the apparent looping rate through mechanisms such as nonspecific binding. Here, we show how to measure dsDNA looping kinetics without ligase by detecting transient DNA loop formation by FRET (Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer). dsDNA molecules are constructed using a simple PCR-based protocol with a FRET pair and a biotin linker. The looping probability density known as the J factor is extracted from the looping rate and the annealing rate between two disconnected sticky ends. By testing two dsDNAs with different intrinsic curvatures, we show that the J factor is sensitive to the intrinsic shape of the dsDNA.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, DNA looping, J factor, Single molecule, FRET, Gel mobility shift, DNA curvature, Worm-like chain
Investigating Receptor-ligand Systems of the Cellulosome with AFM-based Single-molecule Force Spectroscopy
Cellulosomes are discrete multienzyme complexes used by a subset of anaerobic bacteria and fungi to digest lignocellulosic substrates. Assembly of the enzymes onto the noncatalytic scaffold protein is directed by interactions among a family of related receptor-ligand pairs comprising interacting cohesin and dockerin modules. The extremely strong binding between cohesin and dockerin modules results in dissociation constants in the low picomolar to nanomolar range, which may hamper accurate off-rate measurements with conventional bulk methods. Single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) with the atomic force microscope measures the response of individual biomolecules to force, and in contrast to other single-molecule manipulation methods (i.e.
optical tweezers), is optimal for studying high-affinity receptor-ligand interactions because of its ability to probe the high-force regime (>120 pN). Here we present our complete protocol for studying cellulosomal protein assemblies at the single-molecule level. Using a protein topology derived from the native cellulosome, we worked with enzyme-dockerin and carbohydrate binding module-cohesin (CBM-cohesin) fusion proteins, each with an accessible free thiol group at an engineered cysteine residue. We present our site-specific surface immobilization protocol, along with our measurement and data analysis procedure for obtaining detailed binding parameters for the high-affinity complex. We demonstrate how to quantify single subdomain unfolding forces, complex rupture forces, kinetic off-rates, and potential widths of the binding well. The successful application of these methods in characterizing the cohesin-dockerin interaction responsible for assembly of multidomain cellulolytic complexes is further described.
Bioengineering, Issue 82, biophysics, protein unfolding, atomic force microscopy, surface immobilization
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
Visualizing Protein-DNA Interactions in Live Bacterial Cells Using Photoactivated Single-molecule Tracking
Institutions: University of Oxford, University of Oxford.
Protein-DNA interactions are at the heart of many fundamental cellular processes. For example, DNA replication, transcription, repair, and chromosome organization are governed by DNA-binding proteins that recognize specific DNA structures or sequences. In vitro
experiments have helped to generate detailed models for the function of many types of DNA-binding proteins, yet, the exact mechanisms of these processes and their organization in the complex environment of the living cell remain far less understood. We recently introduced a method for quantifying DNA-repair activities in live Escherichia coli
cells using Photoactivated Localization Microscopy (PALM) combined with single-molecule tracking. Our general approach identifies individual DNA-binding events by the change in the mobility of a single protein upon association with the chromosome. The fraction of bound molecules provides a direct quantitative measure for the protein activity and abundance of substrates or binding sites at the single-cell level. Here, we describe the concept of the method and demonstrate sample preparation, data acquisition, and data analysis procedures.
Immunology, Issue 85, Super-resolution microscopy, single-particle tracking, Live-cell imaging, DNA-binding proteins, DNA repair, molecular diffusion
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Remote Magnetic Actuation of Micrometric Probes for in situ 3D Mapping of Bacterial Biofilm Physical Properties
Institutions: Sorbonne Universités, UPMC, Institut Pasteur, Sorbonne Universités, UPMC.
Bacterial adhesion and growth on interfaces lead to the formation of three-dimensional heterogeneous structures so-called biofilms. The cells dwelling in these structures are held together by physical interactions mediated by a network of extracellular polymeric substances. Bacterial biofilms impact many human activities and the understanding of their properties is crucial for a better control of their development — maintenance or eradication — depending on their adverse or beneficial outcome. This paper describes a novel methodology aiming to measure in situ
the local physical properties of the biofilm that had been, until now, examined only from a macroscopic and homogeneous material perspective. The experiment described here involves introducing magnetic particles into a growing biofilm to seed local probes that can be remotely actuated without disturbing the structural properties of the biofilm. Dedicated magnetic tweezers were developed to exert a defined force on each particle embedded in the biofilm. The setup is mounted on the stage of a microscope to enable the recording of time-lapse images of the particle-pulling period. The particle trajectories are then extracted from the pulling sequence and the local viscoelastic parameters are derived from each particle displacement curve, thereby providing the 3D-spatial distribution of the parameters. Gaining insights into the biofilm mechanical profile is essential from an engineer's point of view for biofilm control purposes but also from a fundamental perspective to clarify the relationship between the architectural properties and the specific biology of these structures.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, Bacterial biofilm, magnetic tweezers, visco-elastic parameters, spatial distribution, flow cell, extracellular matrix
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Development of Whispering Gallery Mode Polymeric Micro-optical Electric Field Sensors
Institutions: Southern Methodist University.
Optical modes of dielectric micro-cavities have received significant attention in recent years for their potential in a broad range of applications. The optical modes are frequently referred to as "whispering gallery modes" (WGM) or "morphology dependent resonances" (MDR) and exhibit high optical quality factors. Some proposed applications of micro-cavity optical resonators are in spectroscopy1
, micro-cavity laser technology2
, optical communications3-6
as well as sensor technology. The WGM-based sensor applications include those in biology7
, trace gas detection8
, and impurity detection in liquids9
. Mechanical sensors based on microsphere resonators have also been proposed, including those for force10,11
and wall shear stress14
. In the present, we demonstrate a WGM-based electric field sensor, which builds on our previous studies15,16
. A candidate application of this sensor is in the detection of neuronal action potential.
The electric field sensor is based on polymeric multi-layered dielectric microspheres. The external electric field induces surface and body forces on the spheres (electrostriction effect) leading to elastic deformation. This change in the morphology of the spheres, leads to shifts in the WGM. The electric field-induced WGM shifts are interrogated by exciting the optical modes of the spheres by laser light. Light from a distributed feedback (DFB) laser (nominal wavelength of ~ 1.3 μm) is side-coupled into the microspheres using a tapered section of a single mode optical fiber. The base material of the spheres is polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). Three microsphere geometries are used: (1) PDMS sphere with a 60:1 volumetric ratio of base-to-curing agent mixture, (2) multi layer sphere with 60:1 PDMS core, in order to increase the dielectric constant of the sphere, a middle layer of 60:1 PDMS that is mixed with varying amounts (2% to 10% by volume) of barium titanate and an outer layer of 60:1 PDMS and (3) solid silica sphere coated with a thin layer of uncured PDMS base. In each type of sensor, laser light from the tapered fiber is coupled into the outermost layer that provides high optical quality factor WGM (Q ~ 106
). The microspheres are poled for several hours at electric fields of ~ 1 MV/m to increase their sensitivity to electric field.
Mechanical Engineering, Issue 71, Physics, Optics, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, electrostatics, optical fibers, optical materials, optical waveguides, optics, optoelectronics, photonics, geometrical optics, sensors, electric field, dielectric resonators, micro-spheres, whispering gallery mode, morphology dependent resonance, PDMS
Mapping Molecular Diffusion in the Plasma Membrane by Multiple-Target Tracing (MTT)
Institutions: Parc scientifique de Luminy, Parc scientifique de Luminy, Aix-Marseille University, Technopôle de Château-Gombert, Aix-Marseille University, Aix-Marseille University.
Our goal is to obtain a comprehensive description of molecular processes occurring at cellular membranes in different biological functions. We aim at characterizing the complex organization and dynamics of the plasma membrane at single-molecule level, by developing analytic tools dedicated to Single-Particle Tracking
(SPT) at high density: Multiple-Target Tracing
. Single-molecule videomicroscopy, offering millisecond and nanometric resolution1-11
, allows a detailed representation of membrane organization12-14
by accurately mapping descriptors such as cell receptors localization, mobility, confinement or interactions.
We revisited SPT, both experimentally and algorithmically. Experimental aspects included optimizing setup and cell labeling, with a particular emphasis on reaching the highest possible labeling density, in order to provide a dynamic snapshot of molecular dynamics as it occurs within the membrane. Algorithmic issues concerned each step used for rebuilding trajectories: peaks detection, estimation and reconnection, addressed by specific tools from image analysis15,16
. Implementing deflation after detection allows rescuing peaks initially hidden by neighboring, stronger peaks. Of note, improving detection directly impacts reconnection, by reducing gaps within trajectories. Performances have been evaluated using Monte-Carlo simulations for various labeling density and noise values, which typically represent the two major limitations for parallel measurements at high spatiotemporal resolution.
The nanometric accuracy17
obtained for single molecules, using either successive on/off photoswitching or non-linear optics, can deliver exhaustive observations. This is the basis of nanoscopy methods17
such as STORM18
, which may often require imaging fixed samples. The central task is the detection and estimation of diffraction-limited peaks emanating from single-molecules. Hence, providing adequate assumptions such as handling a constant positional accuracy instead of Brownian motion, MTT is straightforwardly suited for nanoscopic analyses. Furthermore, MTT can fundamentally be used at any scale: not only for molecules, but also for cells or animals, for instance. Hence, MTT is a powerful tracking algorithm that finds applications at molecular and cellular scales.
Physics, Issue 63, Single-particle tracking, single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, image analysis, tracking algorithm, high-resolution diffusion map, plasma membrane lateral organization
Multiplexed Single-molecule Force Proteolysis Measurements Using Magnetic Tweezers
Institutions: Stanford University .
The generation and detection of mechanical forces is a ubiquitous aspect of cell physiology, with direct relevance to cancer metastasis1
and wound healing3
. In each of these examples, cells both exert force on their surroundings and simultaneously enzymatically remodel the extracellular matrix (ECM). The effect of forces on ECM has thus become an area of considerable interest due to its likely biological and medical importance4-7
Single molecule techniques such as optical trapping8
, atomic force microscopy9
, and magnetic tweezers10,11
allow researchers to probe the function of enzymes at a molecular level by exerting forces on individual proteins. Of these techniques, magnetic tweezers (MT) are notable for their low cost and high throughput. MT exert forces in the range of ~1-100 pN and can provide millisecond temporal resolution, qualities that are well matched to the study of enzyme mechanism at the single-molecule level12
. Here we report a highly parallelizable MT assay to study the effect of force on the proteolysis of single protein molecules. We present the specific example of the proteolysis of a trimeric collagen peptide by matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1); however, this assay can be easily adapted to study other substrates and proteases.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Single-molecule spectroscopy, magnetic tweezers, force proteolysis, collagen, MMP-1
Stretching Short Sequences of DNA with Constant Force Axial Optical Tweezers
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Michigan .
Single-molecule techniques for stretching DNA of contour lengths less than a kilobase are fraught with experimental difficulties. However, many interesting biological events such as histone binding and protein-mediated looping of DNA1,2
, occur on this length scale. In recent years, the mechanical properties of DNA have been shown to play a significant role in fundamental cellular processes like the packaging of DNA into compact nucleosomes and chromatin fibers3,4
. Clearly, it is then important to understand the mechanical properties of short stretches of DNA. In this paper, we provide a practical guide to a single-molecule optical tweezing technique that we have developed to study the mechanical behavior of DNA with contour lengths as short as a few hundred basepairs.
The major hurdle in stretching short segments of DNA is that conventional optical tweezers are generally designed to apply force in a direction lateral to the stage5,6,
(see Fig. 1). In this geometry, the angle between the bead and the coverslip, to which the DNA is tethered, becomes very steep for submicron length DNA. The axial position must now be accounted for, which can be a challenge, and, since the extension drags the microsphere closer to the coverslip, steric effects are enhanced. Furthermore, as a result of the asymmetry of the microspheres, lateral extensions will generate varying levels of torque due to rotation of the microsphere within the optical trap since the direction of the reactive force changes during the extension.
Alternate methods for stretching submicron DNA run up against their own unique hurdles. For instance, a dual-beam optical trap is limited to stretching DNA of around a wavelength, at which point interference effects between the two traps and from light scattering between the microspheres begin to pose a significant problem. Replacing one of the traps with a micropipette would most likely suffer from similar challenges. While one could directly use the axial potential to stretch the DNA, an active feedback scheme would be needed to apply a constant force and the bandwidth of this will be quite limited, especially at low forces.
We circumvent these fundamental problems by directly pulling the DNA away from the coverslip by using a constant force axial optical tweezers7,8
. This is achieved by trapping the bead in a linear region of the optical potential, where the optical force is constant-the strength of which can be tuned by adjusting the laser power. Trapping within the linear region also serves as an all optical force-clamp on the DNA that extends for nearly 350 nm in the axial direction. We simultaneously compensate for thermal and mechanical drift by finely adjusting the position of the stage so that a reference microsphere stuck to the coverslip remains at the same position and focus, allowing for a virtually limitless observation period.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Genetics, DNA stretching, DNA, Axial Optical Tweezers, Single-Molecule Biophysics, Biophysics
Demonstrating the Uses of the Novel Gravitational Force Spectrometer to Stretch and Measure Fibrous Proteins
Institutions: University of North Texas.
The study of macromolecular structure has become critical to the elucidation of molecular mechanisms and function. There are several limited, but important bioinstruments capable of testing the force dependence of structural features in proteins. Scale has been a limiting parameter on how accurately researchers can peer into the nanomechanical world of molecules, such as nucleic acids, enzymes, and motor proteins that perform life-sustaining work. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is well tuned to determine native structures of fibrous proteins with a distance resolution on par with electron microscopy. However, in AFM force studies, the forces are typically much higher than a single molecule might experience 1, 2
. Optical traps (OT) are very good at determining the relative distance between the trapped beads and they can impart very small forces 3
. However, they do not yield accurate absolute lengths of the molecules under study. Molecular simulations provide supportive information to such experiments, but are limited in the ability to handle the same large molecular sizes, long time frames, and convince some researchers in the absence of other supporting evidence2, 4
The gravitational force spectrometer (GFS) fills a critical niche in the arsenal of an investigator by providing a unique combination of abilities. This instrument is capable of generating forces typically with 98% or better accuracy from the femtonewton range to the nanonewton range. The distance measurements currently are capable of resolving the absolute molecular length down to five nanometers, and relative bead pair separation distances with a precision similar to an optical trap. Also, the GFS can determine stretching or uncoiling where the force is near equilibrium, or provide a graded force to juxtapose against any measured structural changes. It is even possible to determine how many amino acid residues are involved in uncoiling events under physiological force loads 2
. Unlike in other methods where there is extensive force calibration that must precede any assay, the GFS requires no such force calibration 5
. By complementing the strengths of other methods, the GFS will bridge gaps in understanding the nanomechanics of vital proteins and other macromolecules.
Biophysics, Issue 49, Force Spectroscopy, Single Molecule Assays, Myosin, Antibodies, Digital Image Processing, Microscopy, Education, Microspheres, Coiled Coil, Protein
Direct Observation of Enzymes Replicating DNA Using a Single-molecule DNA Stretching Assay
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
We describe a method for observing real time replication of individual DNA molecules mediated by proteins of the bacteriophage replication system. Linearized λ DNA is modified to have a biotin on the end of one strand, and a digoxigenin moiety on the other end of the same strand. The biotinylated end is attached to a functionalized glass coverslip and the digoxigeninated end to a small bead. The assembly of these DNA-bead tethers on the surface of a flow cell allows a laminar flow to be applied to exert a drag force on the bead. As a result, the DNA is stretched close to and parallel to the surface of the coverslip at a force that is determined by the flow rate (Figure 1). The length of the DNA is measured by monitoring the position of the bead. Length differences between single- and double-stranded DNA are utilized to obtain real-time information on the activity of the replication proteins at the fork. Measuring the position of the bead allows precise determination of the rates and processivities of DNA unwinding and polymerization (Figure 2).
Cellular Biology, Issue 37, single-molecule, DNA replication, DNA polymerase, biophysics
Measuring Plant Cell Wall Extension (Creep) Induced by Acidic pH and by Alpha-Expansin
Institutions: Penn State University .
Growing plant cell walls characteristically exhibit a property known as 'acid growth', by which we mean they are more extensible at low pH (< 5) 1
. The plant hormone auxin rapidly stimulates cell elongation in young stems and similar tissues at least in part by an acid-growth mechanism 2, 3
. Auxin activates a H+
pump in the plasma membrane, causing acidification of the cell wall solution. Wall acidification activates expansins, which are endogenous cell wall-loosening proteins 4
, causing the cell wall to yield to the wall tensions created by cell turgor pressure. As a result, the cell begins to enlarge rapidly. This 'acid growth' phenomenon is readily measured in isolated (nonliving) cell wall specimens. The ability of cell walls to undergo acid-induced extension is not simply the result of the structural arrangement of the cell wall polysaccharides (e.g. pectins), but depends on the activity of expansins 5
. Expansins do not have any known enzymatic activity and the only way to assay for expansin activity is to measure their induction of cell wall extension. This video report details the sources and preparation techniques for obtaining suitable wall materials for expansin assays and goes on to show acid-induced extension and expansin-induced extension of wall samples prepared from growing cucumber hypocotyls.
To obtain suitable cell wall samples, cucumber seedlings are grown in the dark, the hypocotyls are cut and frozen at -80 °C. Frozen hypocotyls are abraded, flattened, and then clamped at constant tension in a special cuvette for extensometer measurements. To measure acid-induced extension, the walls are initially buffered at neutral pH, resulting in low activity of expansins that are components of the native cell walls. Upon buffer exchange to acidic pH, expansins are activated and the cell walls extend rapidly. We also demonstrate expansin activity in a reconstitution assay. For this part, we use a brief heat treatment to denature the native expansins in the cell wall samples. These inactivated cell walls do not extend even in acidic buffer, but addition of expansins to the cell walls rapidly restores their ability to extend.
Plant Biology, Issue 25, acid-induced growth, cell walls, expansin, extensometer assay, plant growth