Scientists Developed Technique to Weigh Single Molecules with Light


Scientists developed a technique to weigh single molecules using light, according to a study conducted on April 26, 2018.

This study was conducted by the scientists at Oxford University by collaborating with institutions in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S. This newly developed light-based technique makes the characterization of biomolecules much easier. By using a microscope that detects light, single molecules can be observed and their mass can also be measured easily.

According to the researchers, this development is the result of a research that has been going on for a decade, which involved making an ever more sensitive light microscope. Single molecules were observed in light microscopes since the late 1980s, however, essentially all optical techniques relied on fluorescence. Initially, researchers had demonstrated the visualizing of individual proteins or biomolecules with the help of light scattering. However, the image quality was improved in the last year only, which completed the fluorescence.

Then, rather than detecting the molecules, researchers looked upon quantifying single molecules. If the volume and optical properties of biomolecules scale directly with mass, researchers thought that the microscope should be mass sensitive. Professor Justin Benesch, an expert in mass measurement and co-author of the work, said, “The beauty of mass is that it is both a universal property of matter and extremely diagnostic of the molecule under investigation. Our approach is therefore broadly applicable and, unlike traditional single-molecule microscopy, does not rely on the addition of labels to make molecules visible.”

The technique is called as interferometric scattering mass spectrometry (iSCAMS) and researchers think that this technique could find applications ranging from studies of protein-protein interactions to drug discovery and even point-of-care diagnostics. Researchers are now in the process of commercializing this development, so that other researchers can access it as well.