The advance could have significant implications for drug development by allowing scientists to monitor the effects of potential drugs on an ever-smaller scale, according to Stuart Lindsay, director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and a lead researcher on the project.
Lindsay, an ASU professor in the department of physics and astronomy said the new technique allows an atomic force microscope to "see," on a nanometer scale, the chemical composition of molecules.
"Atomic force microscopy has a resolution down to an atomic level, but until now it has been blind to identifying specific chemical compositions," Lindsay said.
The researchers -- Lindsay, Hongda Wang, Ralph Bash, Brian Ashcroft, and Dennis Lohr of Arizona State University; Cordula Stroh, Hermann Gruber and Peter Hinterdorfer of the Institute of Biophysics at the University of Lintz, Austria; and Jeremy Nelson of Molecular Imaging Corporation, Tempe, Ariz. -- present their findings in "Single Molecule Recognition Imaging Microscopy" in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article is available on line at http://www4.nationalacademies.org/nas/nashome.nsf
"If you imagine that all proteins are shaped like Lego blocks, then conventional atomic force microscopy (AFM) is feeling the Lego blocks on the floor, but it can't tell the difference between one block and another," Lindsay explained. "What we have done, is allow the person sitting on the floor and feeling those blocks to open their eyes and see that there are red Lego blocks, green Lego blocks and yellow Lego blocks."