News: Hello, good-bye, and single molecules

A big welcome to Shazia Farouq (PhD 2012-01-15_T1B17student in the van Amerongen group)! Shazia will take over some of Andy’s projects, who left the group to pursue new endeavours. Thanks to Andy’s work in the last three months, we are now able to detect single fluorescent molecules on our microscope. Hooray!

Picture: Doubly labelled DNA (dyes: Cy3B and ATTO647N) immobilised on a glass surface. The green detection channel is on the left, red detection channel (FRET channel) on the right.

News: Imaging of fluorescent latex beads

After finishing very late yesterday2012-11-29_Beads_MMImages evening, we proudly present our first image taken with the new setup. Nothing very interesting, just some aggregated, fluorescent latex-beads on a cover slip surface imaged into blue, green and red detection channels of an emCCD camera (after excitation with a green laser). A big thank you goes to John for the laser control software!

Now its time to prepare some buffers, get the oxygen scavenger system working, and image some DNA FRET standards.

News: Arrival in Wageningen

After a short flight from Heathrow to Schiphol and some trains and buses later, Andy and I arrived in Wageningen with all our luggage and cardboard-wrapped bikes. On Monday, we had fun opening the boxes from Thorlabs with parts for our new multi-colour TIRF microscope. Opinions on how soon we will be able to detect single, fluorescent molecules seem to differ quite a bit and a couple of bets have been placed, but we accept the challenge and are hoping to share some images in a few weeks time (and collect our winnings).

Fun: Single-molecule-fluorescence set-up-building for beginners…

The picture shows important characteristics of a state-of-the-art microscope: multicolour-excitation path with alternating laser excitation (blue, green, and red lasers),  a microscope stage with objective focusing the laser light into a small sample volume, the fluorescence from the sample volume is detected through the same objective, and the light is focussed onto a camera. For more information, click [here].

Publication: Characterization of Dark Quencher Chromophores as Nonfluorescent Acceptors for Single-Molecule FRET

L. Le Reste, J. Hohlbein, K. Gryte, A.N. Kapanidis, Biophysical Journal, 102, 11, 2658-2668, 2012, [link]

Dark quenchers are chromophores that primarily relax from the excited state to the ground state nonradiatively (i.e., are dark). As a result, they can serve as acceptors for Förster resonance energy transfer experiments without contributing significantly to background in the donor-emission channel, even at high concentrations. Although the advantages of dark quenchers have been exploited for ensemble bioassays, no systematic single-molecule study of dark quenchers has been performed, and little is known about their photophysical properties. Here, we present the first systematic single-molecule study of dark quenchers in conjunction with fluorophores and demonstrate the use of dark quenchers for monitoring multiple interactions and distances in multichromophore systems. Specifically, using double-stranded DNA standards labeled with two fluorophores and a dark quencher (either QSY7 or QSY21), we show that the proximity of a fluorophore and dark quencher can be monitored using the stoichiometry ratio available from alternating laser excitation spectroscopy experiments, either for single molecules diffusing in solution (using a confocal fluorescence) or immobilized on surfaces (using total-internal-reflection fluorescence). The latter experiments allowed characterization of the dark-quencher photophysical properties at the single-molecule level. We also use dark-quenchers to study the affinity and kinetics of binding of DNA Polymerase I (Klenow fragment) to DNA. The measured properties are in excellent agreement with the results of ensemble assays, validating the use of dark quenchers. Because dark-quencher-labeled biomolecules can be used in total-internal-reflection fluorescence experiments at concentrations of 1 μM or more without introducing a significant background, the use of dark quenchers should permit single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer measurements for the large number of biomolecules that participate in interactions of moderate-to-low affinity.

News: Hello Wageningen (NL)!

Good news: I accepted an offer for a position in the Laboratory of Biophysics in Wageningen (NL). Starting in Autumn 2012, my group is going to employ single-molecule methods, such as single‐molecule FRET and super‐resolution microscopy, to study biological processes on the molecular level.

We will study DNA-Protein interactions with a focus on DNA replication and repair. Besides continuing work on the bacterial DNA polymerase I (Klenow Fragment),  we will start investigating the human base excision repair pathway (BER), a cellular mechanism responsible for the repair of damaged sites in DNA.

If you are interested in joining the group as a Bachelor-, Master- or PhD-student, don’t hesitate to contact me for more information!

Publication: Identifying molecular dynamics in single-molecule FRET experiments with Burst Variance Analysis

J.P. Torella, S.J. Holden, Y. Santoso, J. Hohlbein, A.N. Kapanidis, Biophysical Journal, Vol. 100, Issue 6, 1568-1577, 2011, [link]

Histograms of single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) efficiency are often used to study the structures of biomolecules and relate these structures to function. Methods like probability distribution analysis analyze FRET histograms to detect heterogeneities in molecular structure, but they cannot determine whether this heterogeneity arises from dynamic processes or from the coexistence of several static structures. To this end, we introduce burst variance analysis (BVA), a method that detects dynamics by comparing the standard deviation of FRET from individual molecules over time to that expected from theory. Both simulations and experiments on DNA hairpins show that BVA can distinguish between static and dynamic sources of heterogeneity in single-molecule FRET histograms and can test models of dynamics against the observed standard deviation information. Using BVA, we analyzed the fingers-closing transition in the Klenow fragment of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I and identified substantial dynamics in polymerase complexes formed prior to nucleotide incorporation; these dynamics may be important for the fidelity of DNA synthesis. We expect BVA to be broadly applicable to single-molecule FRET studies of molecular structure and to complement approaches such as probability distribution analysis and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy in studying molecular dynamics.

Publication: Defining the limits of single-molecule FRET resolution in TIRF microscopy

S.J. Holden, S. Uphoff, J. Hohlbein, D. Yadin, L. Le Reste, O.J. Britton, A.N. Kapanidis, Biophysical Journal, Vol. 99, Issue 9, 2011, 3102-3111 [link]

Single-molecule FRET (smFRET) has long been used as a molecular ruler for the study of biology on the nanoscale (∼2–10 nm); smFRET in total-internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) Förster resonance energy transfer (TIRF-FRET) microscopy allows multiple biomolecules to be simultaneously studied with high temporal and spatial resolution. To operate at the limits of resolution of the technique, it is essential to investigate and rigorously quantify the major sources of noise and error; we used theoretical predictions, simulations, advanced image analysis, and detailed characterization of DNA standards to quantify the limits of TIRF-FRET resolution. We present a theoretical description of the major sources of noise, which was in excellent agreement with results for short-timescale smFRET measurements (<200 ms) on individual molecules (as opposed to measurements on an ensemble of single molecules). For longer timescales (>200 ms) on individual molecules, and for FRET distributions obtained from an ensemble of single molecules, we observed significant broadening beyond theoretical predictions; we investigated the causes of this broadening. For measurements on individual molecules, analysis of the experimental noise allows us to predict a maximum resolution of a FRET change of 0.08 with 20-ms temporal resolution, sufficient to directly resolve distance differences equivalent to one DNA basepair separation (0.34 nm). For measurements on ensembles of single molecules, we demonstrate resolution of distance differences of one basepair with 1000-ms temporal resolution, and differences of two basepairs with 80-ms temporal resolution. Our work paves the way for ultra-high-resolution TIRF-FRET studies on many biomolecules, including DNA processing machinery (DNA and RNA polymerases, helicases, etc.), the mechanisms of which are often characterized by distance changes on the scale of one DNA basepair.

Publication: Surfing on a new wave of single-molecule methods

J. Hohlbein, K. Gryte, M. Heilemann, A.N. Kapanidis, Phys. Biol., 7, 031001, 2010, [link]

Single-molecule fluorescence microscopy is currently one of the most popular methods in the single-molecule toolbox. In this review, we discuss recent advances in fluorescence instrumentation and assays: these methods are characterized by a substantial increase in complexity of the instrumentation or biological samples involved. Specifically, we describe new multi-laser and multi-colour fluorescence spectroscopy and imaging techniques, super-resolution microscopy imaging and the development of instruments that combine fluorescence detection with other single-molecule methods such as force spectroscopy. We also highlight two pivotal developments in basic and applied biosciences: the new information available from detection of single molecules in single biological cells and exciting developments in fluorescence-based single-molecule DNA sequencing