Optical trapping techniques have been used to investigate fundamental biological processes ranging from the identification of the processive mechanisms of kinesin and myosin to understanding the mechanics of DNA. To date, these investigations have relied almost exclusively on the use of isotropic probes based on colloidal microspheres. However, there are many potential advantages in utilizing more complex probe morphologies: use of multiple trapping points enables control of the interaction volume; increasing the distance between the optical trap and the sample minimizes photodamage in sensitive biological materials; and geometric anisotropy introduces the potential for asymmetric surface chemistry and multifunctional probes. Here we demonstrate that living cells of the freshwater diatom Nitzschia subacicularis Hustedt can be exploited as advanced probes for holographic optical tweezing applications. We characterize the optical and material properties associated with the high shape anisotropy of the silica frustule, examine the trapping behavior of the living algal cells, and demonstrate how the diatoms can be calibrated for use as force sensors and as force probes in the presence of rat B-cell hybridoma (11B11) cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6018-6023
Number of pages6
JournalNano Letters
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


  • Bioinspired
  • diatoms
  • holographic optical tweezers
  • nanoscale forces
  • surface functionalization

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