Atomic Force Microscope and Single-Molecule Force Microscopy Studies of Biopolymers


Terri A. Camesano Department of Chemical Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Biopolymers are macromolecules of biological origin, which include nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), proteins, peptides, and polysaccharides. Although these macromolecules influence biological processes in different ways, most biological processes are associated to some extent with the physical properties of biopolymers (chain structure, flexibility, and excluded volume interactions). For example, the conformation of bacterial surface biopolymers affects their adhesion to host tissue in the establishment of infection. In other biological processes such as protein synthesis, the specific structural units of the biopolymers (nucleic acids and proteins) control the biological function.

Interest in analyzing the physical properties and structural features of biopolymers stems from the wide variety of functions they can perform in living systems of humans, animals, plants, bacteria, and fungi or the important roles they play in industrial operations. The ultimate aim behind the characterization of biopolymer properties is to provide a better understanding and control of their behavior in biological, medical, and/or industrial processes. Examples of applications affected by biopolymer properties are environmental bioremediation, biomedical applications such as wound healing, gene therapy, growth mechanisms of macromolecular crystals, food technology, and bacterial adhesion.