Optical tweezers in single-molecule biophysics

Carlos J. Bustamante, Yann R. Chemla, Shixin Liu, Michelle D. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Optical tweezers have become the method of choice in single-molecule manipulation studies. In this Primer, we first review the physical principles of optical tweezers and the characteristics that make them a powerful tool to investigate single molecules. We then introduce the modifications of the method to extend the measurement of forces and displacements to torques and angles, and to develop optical tweezers with single-molecule fluorescence detection capabilities. We discuss force and torque calibration of these instruments, their various modes of operation and most common experimental geometries. We describe the type of data obtained in each experimental design and their analyses. This description is followed by a survey of applications of these methods to the studies of protein–nucleic acid interactions, protein/RNA folding and molecular motors. We also discuss data reproducibility, the factors that lead to the data variability among different laboratories and the need to develop field standards. We cover the current limitations of the methods and possible ways to optimize instrument operation, data extraction and analysis, before suggesting likely areas of future growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number25
JournalNature Reviews Methods Primers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Optical tweezers in single-molecule biophysics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this