A simple micromechanical method has been developed to measure the rupture strength of a molecular-point attachment (focal bond) between two macroscopically smooth membrane capsules. In the procedure, one capsule is prepared with a low density coverage of adhesion molecules, formed as a stiff sphere, and held at fixed position by a micropipette. The second capsule without adhesion molecules is pressurized into a spherical shape with low suction by another pipette. This capsule is maneuvered to initiate point contact at the pole opposite the stiff capsule which leads to formation of a few (or even one) molecular attachments. Then, the deformable capsule is slowly withdrawn by displacement of the pipette. Analysis shows that the end-to-end extension of the capsule provides a direct measure of the force at the point contact and, therefore, the rupture strength when detachment occurs. The range for point forces accessible to this technique depends on the elastic moduli of the membrane, membrane tension, and the size of the capsule. For biological and synthetic vesicle membranes, the range of force lies between 10(-7)-10(-5) dyn (10(-12)-10(-10) N) which is 100-fold less than presently measurable by Atomic Force Microscopy! Here, the approach was used to study the forces required to rupture microscopic attachments between red blood cells formed by a monoclonal antibody to red cell membrane glycophorin, anti-A serum, and a lectin from the snail-helix pomatia. Failure of the attachments appeared to be a stochastic function of the magnitude and duration of the detachment force. We have correlated the statistical behavior observed for rupture with a random process model for failure of small numbers of molecular attachments. The surprising outcome of the measurements and analysis was that the forces deduced for short-time failure of 1-2 molecular attachments were nearly the same for all of the agglutinin, i.e., 1-2 x 10(-6) dyn. Hence, microfluorometric tests were carried out to determine if labeled agglutinins and/or labeled surface molecules were transferred between surfaces after separation of large areas of adhesive contact. The results showed that the attachments failed because receptors were extracted from the membrane.