Date of Award

Summer 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Physics & Astronomy

First Advisor

Philip C. Nelson

Second Advisor

Yale E. Goldman


Single molecule biophysics aims to understand biological processes by studying them at the single molecule level in real time. The proteins and nucleic acids under investigation typically exist in an aqueous environment within approximately ten degrees of room temperature. These seemingly benign conditions are actually quite chaotic at the nanoscale, where single bio-molecules perform their function. As a result, sensitive experiments and statistical analyses are required to separate the weak single molecule signal from its background. Protein-DNA interactions were investigated by monitoring DNA looping events in tethered particle experiments. A new analysis technique, called the Diffusive hidden Markov method, was developed to extract kinetic rate constants from experimental data without any filtering of the raw data; a common step that improves the signal to noise ratio, but at the expense of lower time resolution. In the second system, translocation of the molecular motor myosin along its actin filament track was studied using polarized total internal reflection (polTIRF) microscopy, a technique that determines the orientation and wobble of a single fluorophore attached to the bio-molecule of interest. The range of resolvable angles was increased 4-fold to include a hemisphere of possible orientations. As a result, the handedness of actin filament twirling as it translocated along a myosin-coated surface was determined to be left-handed. The maximum time resolution of a polTIRF setup was increased 50-fold, in part by recording the arrival times and polarization state of single photons using a modified time-correlated single photon counting device. A new analysis, the Multiple Intensity Change Point algorithm, was developed to detect changes in molecular orientation and wobble using the raw time-stamped data with no user-defined bins or thresholds. The analysis objectively identified changes in the orientation of a bifunctional-rhodamine labeled calmodulin that was attached to a myosin V molecule translocating along an actin filament. Long intervals corresponding to stable positions between tilting motions of the lever arm during each step were routinely observed. Substeps in the cycle that preceded these long dwells were measured, but only occasionally most likely because of the low number of photons detected during these rapid events.

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