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Trends Biochem Sci. 2009 May;34(5):234-43. doi: 10.1016/j.tibs.2009.01.008. Epub 2009 Apr 11.

Biology, one molecule at a time.

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Department of Physics and Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration in Bionanotechnology, Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Single-molecule techniques have moved from being a fascinating curiosity to a highlight of life science research. The single-molecule approach to biology offers distinct advantages over the conventional approach of taking bulk measurements; this additional information content usually comes at the cost of the additional complexity. Popular single-molecule methods include optical and magnetic tweezers, atomic force microscopy, tethered particle motion and single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy; the complement of these methods offers a wide range of spatial and temporal capabilities. These approaches have been instrumental in addressing important biological questions in diverse areas such as protein-DNA interactions, protein folding and the function(s) of membrane proteins.

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