Biophysical journal

High Spatiotemporal-Resolution Magnetic Tweezers: Calibration and Applications for DNA Dynamics.

PMID 26588570


The observation of biological processes at the molecular scale in real time requires high spatial and temporal resolution. Magnetic tweezers are straightforward to implement, free of radiation or photodamage, and provide ample multiplexing capability, but their spatiotemporal resolution has lagged behind that of other single-molecule manipulation techniques, notably optical tweezers and AFM. Here, we present, to our knowledge, a new high-resolution magnetic tweezers apparatus. We systematically characterize the achievable spatiotemporal resolution for both incoherent and coherent light sources, different types and sizes of beads, and different types and lengths of tethered molecules. Using a bright coherent laser source for illumination and tracking at 6 kHz, we resolve 3xa0Å steps with a 1xa0s period for surface-melted beads and 5xa0Å steps with a 0.5xa0s period for double-stranded-dsDNA-tethered beads, in good agreement with a model of stochastic bead motion in the magnetic tweezers. We demonstrate how this instrument can be used to monitor the opening and closing of a DNA hairpin on millisecond timescales in real time, together with attendant changes in the hairpin dynamics upon the addition of deoxythymidine triphosphate. Our approach opens up the possibility of observing biological events at submillisecond timescales with subnanometer resolution using camera-based detection.