Joining forces: integrating the mechanical and optical single molecule toolkits
Single molecule force spectroscopy and single molecule fluorescence microscopy have both evolved into extremely powerful tools for studying molecular mechanisms in Biophysics and Materials Science. Recent technological developments have focused on combining the strengths of both techniques in one instrument. Integrated instruments provide unique possibilities for mechanically manipulating a single molecule while observing its response optically. Here we provide an overview of the state-of-the-art with an emphasis on the technological challenges. Describing the mostly biological systems that have been studied to date, we discuss the application of combined force-fluorescence approaches for studying force–structure–function relationships. We further highlight the potential of integrated setups for investigating mechanosensing and mechanoregulation in biological systems and for characterizing molecular force probes that find potential application in (biomimetic) self-reporting and self-healing materials.