Magnetic tweezers: Micromanipulation and force measurement at the molecular level

Publication Type:

Journal Article

Source:

BIOPHYSICAL JOURNAL, BIOPHYSICAL SOCIETY, Volume 82, Number 6, 9650 ROCKVILLE PIKE, BETHESDA, MD 20814-3998 USA, p.3314-3329 (2002)

Keywords:

ACTIN NETWORKS; ESCHERICHIA-COLI; LASER TWEEZERS; POLYMERASE; ROTATION; SINGLE-MOLECULE; SUPERCOILED DNA; TRANSCRIPTION; TRAPPED MICROSCOPIC PARTICLES; VISCOELASTICITY

Abstract:

Cantilevers and optical tweezers are widely used for micromanipulating cells or biomolecules for measuring their mechanical properties. However, they do not allow easy rotary motion and can sometimes damage the handled material. We present here a system of magnetic tweezers that overcomes those drawbacks while retaining most of the previous dynamometers properties. Electromagnets are coupled to a microscope-based particle tracking system through a digital feedback loop. Magnetic beads are first trapped in a potential well of stiffness similar to10(-7) N/m. Thus, they can be manipulated in three dimensions at a speed of similar to10 mum/s and rotated along the optical axis at a frequency of 10 Hz. In addition, our apparatus can work as a dynamometer relying on either usual calibration against the viscous drag or complete calibration using Brownian fluctuations. By stretching a DNA molecule between a magnetic particle and a glass surface, we applied and measured vertical forces ranging from 50 fN to 20 pN. Similarly, nearly horizontal forces up to 5 pN were obtained. From those experiments, we conclude that magnetic tweezers represent a low-cost and biocompatible setup that could become a suitable alternative to the other available micromanipulators.