Label-free observation of individual solution phase molecules.

bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology(2023)

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The vast majority of chemistry and biology occurs in solution, and new label-free analytical techniques that can help resolve solution-phase complexity at the single-molecule level can provide new microscopic perspectives of unprecedented detail. Here, we use the increased light-molecule interactions in high-finesse fiber Fabry-Pérot microcavities to detect individual biomolecules as small as 1.2 kDa with signal-to-noise ratios >100, even as the molecules are freely diffusing in solution. Our method delivers 2D intensity and temporal profiles, enabling the distinction of sub-populations in mixed samples. Strikingly, we observe a linear relationship between passage time and molecular radius, unlocking the potential to gather crucial information about diffusion and solution-phase conformation. Furthermore, mixtures of biomolecule isomers of the same molecular weight can also be resolved. Detection is based on a novel molecular velocity filtering and dynamic thermal priming mechanism leveraging both photo-thermal bistability and Pound-Drever-Hall cavity locking. This technology holds broad potential for applications in life and chemical sciences and represents a major advancement in label-free in vitro single-molecule techniques.
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