Skewed brownian fluctuations in single-molecule magnetic tweezers

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© 2014 Burnham et al. Measurements in magnetic tweezers rely upon precise determination of the position of a magnetic microsphere. Fluctuations in the position due to Brownian motion allows calculation of the applied force, enabling deduction of the force-extension response function for a single DNA molecule that is attached to the microsphere. The standard approach relies upon using the mean of position fluctuations, which is valid when the microsphere axial position fluctuations obey a normal distribution. However, here we demonstrate that nearby surfaces and the non-linear elasticity of DNA can skew the distribution. Through experiment and simulations, we show that such a skewing leads to inaccurate position measurements which significantly affect the extracted DNA extension and mechanical properties, leading to up to two-fold errors in measured DNA persistence length. We develop a simple, robust and easily implemented method to correct for such mismeasurements.




Burnham, D. R., De Vlaminck, I., Henighan, T., & Dekker, C. (2014). Skewed brownian fluctuations in single-molecule magnetic tweezers. PLoS ONE, 9(9).

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