Visualizing Single Molecular Complexes In Vivo Using Advanced Fluorescence Microscopy
Full insight into the mechanisms of living cells can be achieved only by investigating the key processes that elicit and direct events at a cellular level. To date the shear complexity of biological systems has caused precise single-molecule experimentation to be far too demanding, instead focusing on studies of single systems using relatively crude bulk ensemble-average measurements. However, many important processes occur in the living cell at the level of just one or a few molecules; ensemble measurements generally mask the stochastic and heterogeneous nature of these events. Here, using advanced optical microscopy and analytical image analysis tools we demonstrate how to monitor proteins within a single living bacterial cell to a precision of single molecules and how we can observe dynamics within molecular complexes in functioning biological machines. The techniques are directly relevant physiologically. They are minimally-perturbative and non-invasive to the biological sample under study and are fully attuned for investigations in living material, features not readily available to other single-molecule approaches of biophysics. In addition, the biological specimens studied all produce fluorescently-tagged protein at levels which are almost identical to the unmodified cell strains ("genomic encoding"), as opposed to the more common but less ideal approach for generating significantly more protein than would occur naturally ('plasmid expression'). Thus, the actual biological samples which will be investigated are significantly closer to the natural organisms, and therefore the observations more relevant to real physiological processes.