Extending Single-Molecule Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) Range beyond 10 Nanometers in Zero-Mode Waveguides

ACS Nano. 2019 Jul 23;13(7):8469-8480. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.9b04378. Epub 2019 Jul 10.


Single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) is widely used to monitor conformations and interaction dynamics at the molecular level. However, conventional smFRET measurements are ineffective at donor-acceptor distances exceeding 10 nm, impeding the studies on biomolecules of larger size. Here, we show that zero-mode waveguide (ZMW) apertures can be used to overcome the 10 nm barrier in smFRET. Using an optimized ZMW structure, we demonstrate smFRET between standard commercial fluorophores up to 13.6 nm distance with a significantly improved FRET efficiency. To further break into the classical FRET range limit, ZMWs are combined with molecular constructs featuring multiple acceptor dyes to achieve high FRET efficiencies together with high fluorescence count rates. As we discuss general guidelines for quantitative smFRET measurements inside ZMWs, the technique can be readily applied for monitoring conformations and interactions on large molecular complexes with enhanced brightness.

Keywords: FRET; nanophotonics; plasmonics; single-molecule fluorescence; zero-mode waveguide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't