Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nanomechanical force transducers for biomolecular and intracellular measurements: is there room to shrink and why do it?

Donald J Sirbuly, Raymond W Friddle, Joshua Villanueva and Qian Huang

Over the past couple of decades there has been a tremendous amount of progress on the development of ultrasensitive nanomechanical instruments, which has enabled scientists to peer for the first time into the mechanical world of biomolecular systems. Currently, work-horse instruments such as the atomic force microscope and optical/magnetic tweezers have provided the resolution necessary to extract quantitative force data from various molecular systems down to the femtonewton range, but it remains difficult to access the intracellular environment with these analytical tools as they have fairly large sizes and complicated feedback systems. This review is focused on highlighting some of the major milestones and discoveries in the field of biomolecular mechanics that have been made possible by the development of advanced atomic force microscope and tweezer techniques as well as on introducing emerging state-of-the-art nanomechanical force transducers that are addressing the size limitations presented by these standard tools. We will first briefly cover the basic setup and operation of these instruments, and then focus heavily on summarizing advances in in vitro force studies at both the molecular and cellular level. The last part of this review will include strategies for shrinking down the size of force transducers and provide insight into why this may be important for gaining a more complete understanding of cellular activity and function.

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