Optical manipulation of single molecules in the living cell
Optical tweezers are the only nano-tools capable of manipulating and performing force-measurements on individual molecules and organelles within the living cell without performing destructive penetration through the cell wall and without the need for inserting a non-endogenous probe. Here, we describe how optical tweezers are used to manipulate individual molecules and perform accurate force and distance measurements within the complex cytoplasm of the living cell. Optical tweezers can grab individual molecules or organelles, if their optical contrast to the medium is large enough, as is the case, e.g., for lipid granules or chromosomes. However, often the molecule of interest is specifically attached to a handle manipulated by the optical trap. The most commonly used handles, their insertion into the cytoplasm, and the relevant micro-rheology of the cell are discussed here and we also review recent and exciting results achieved through optical force manipulation of individual molecules in vivo.