Single-molecule force spectroscopy has brought many new insights into nanoscale biology, from the functioning of molecular motors, to the mechanical response of soft materials within the cell. To expand the single-molecule toolbox, we have developed a surface-free force spectroscopy assay based on a high-speed hydrodynamic trap capable of applying extremely high tensions for long periods of time. High-speed single-molecule trapping is enabled by a rigid and gas-impermeable microfluidic chip, rapidly and inexpensively fabricated out of glass, double-sided tape and UV-curable adhesive. Our approach does not require difficult covalent attachment chemistries, and enables simultaneous force application and single-molecule fluorescence. Using this approach, we have induced a highly extended state with twice the contour length of B-DNA in regions of partially intercalated double-stranded (dsDNA) by applying forces up to 250 pN. This highly extended state resembles the hyperstretched state of dsDNA, which was initially discovered as a structure fully intercalated by dyes under high tension. It has been hypothesized that hyperstretched DNA could also be induced without the aid of intercalators if high-enough forces were applied, which matches our observation. Combining force application with single-molecule fluorescence imaging is critical for distinguishing hyperstretched DNA from single-stranded DNA that can result from peeling. High-speed hydrodynamic trapping is a powerful yet accessible force spectroscopy method that enables the mechanics of biomolecules to be probed in previously difficult to access regimes.
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