Abstract

Optical tweezers (OTs) allow the measurement of fluctuations at the nanoscale, in particular fluctuations in the end-to-end distance in single molecules. Fluctuation spectra can yield valuable information, but they can easily be contaminated by instrumental effects. We identify axial fluctuations, i.e., fluctuations of the trapped beads in the direction of light propagation, as one of these instrumental effects. Remarkably, axial fluctuations occur on a characteristic timescale similar to that of conformational (folding) transitions, which may lead to misinterpretation of the experimental results. We show that a precise measurement of the effect of force on both axial and conformational fluctuations is crucial to disentangle them. Our results on axial fluctuations are captured by a simple and general formula valid for all OT setups and provide experimentalists with a general strategy to distinguish axial fluctuations from conformational transitions.

© 2015 Optical Society of America

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