Torque measurement at the single-molecule level

Annu Rev Biophys. 2013;42:583-604. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-083012-130412.


Methods for exerting and measuring forces on single molecules have revolutionized the study of the physics of biology. However, it is often the case that biological processes involve rotation or torque generation, and these parameters have been more difficult to access experimentally. Recent advances in the single-molecule field have led to the development of techniques that add the capability of torque measurement. By combining force, displacement, torque, and rotational data, a more comprehensive description of the mechanics of a biomolecule can be achieved. In this review, we highlight a number of biological processes for which torque plays a key mechanical role. We describe the various techniques that have been developed to directly probe the torque experienced by a single molecule, and detail a variety of measurements made to date using these new technologies. We conclude by discussing a number of open questions and propose systems of study that would be well suited for analysis with torsional measurement techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Nanostructures / chemistry
  • Prokaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Rotation
  • Torque*


  • Proteins
  • DNA