A long standing goal is the direct optical control of biomolecules and water for applications ranging from microfluidics over biomolecule detection to non-equilibrium biophysics. Thermal forces originating from optically applied, dynamic microscale temperature gradients have shown to possess great potential to reach this goal. It was demonstrated that laser heating by a few Kelvin can generate and guide water flow on the micrometre scale in bulk fluid, gel matrices or ice without requiring any lithographic structuring. Biomolecules on the other hand can be transported by thermal gradients, a mechanism termed thermophoresis, thermal diffusion or Soret effect. This molecule transport is the subject of current research, however it can be used to both characterize biomolecules and to record binding curves of important biological binding reactions, even in their native matrix of blood serum. Interestingly, thermophoresis can be easily combined with the optothermal fluid control. As a result, molecule traps can be created in a variety of geometries, enabling the trapping of small biomolecules, like for example very short DNA molecules. The combination with DNA replication from thermal convection allows us to approach molecular evolution with concurrent replication and selection processes inside a single chamber: replication is driven by thermal convection and selection by the concurrent accumulation of the DNA molecules. From the short but intense history of applying thermal fields to control fluid flow and biological molecules, we infer that many unexpected and highly synergistic effects and applications are likely to be explored in the future.
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