Magnetic tweezers are a powerful single-molecule technique that allows real-time quantitative investigation of biomolecular processes under applied force. High pulling forces exceeding tens of picoNewtons may be required, e.g. to probe the force range of proteins that actively transcribe or package the genome. Frequently, however, the application of such forces decreases the sample lifetime, hindering data acquisition. To provide experimentally viable sample lifetimes in the face of high pulling forces, we have designed a novel anchoring strategy for DNA in magnetic tweezers. Our approach, which exploits covalent functionalization based on heterobifunctional poly(ethylene glycol) crosslinkers, allows us to strongly tether DNA while simultaneously suppressing undesirable non-specific adhesion. A complete force and lifetime characterization of these covalently anchored DNA-tethers demonstrates that, compared to more commonly employed anchoring strategies, they withstand 3-fold higher pulling forces (up to 150 pN) and exhibit up to 200-fold higher lifetimes (exceeding 24 h at a constant force of 150 pN). This advance makes it possible to apply the full range of biologically relevant force scales to biomolecular processes, and its straightforward implementation should extend its reach to a multitude of applications in the field of single-molecule force spectroscopy.
© The Author(s) 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.