This mini-review describes how single-molecule sensitive fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) and photoinduced electron transfer (PET) reactions can be successfully applied to monitor conformational dynamics in biopolymers. Single-pair FRET experiments are ideally suited to study conformational dynamics occurring on the nanometer scale, e.g. during protein folding or unfolding. In contrast, conformational dynamics with functional significance, for example occurring in enzymes at work, often appear on much smaller spatial scales of up to several Angströms. Our results demonstrate that selective PET-reactions between fluorophores and amino acids or DNA nucleotides represent a versatile tool to measure small-scale conformational dynamics in biopolymers on a wide range of time scales, extending from nanoseconds to seconds, at the single-molecule level. That is, the monitoring of conformational dynamics of biopolymers with temporal resolutions comparable to those within reach using new techniques of molecular dynamic simulations. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the strong distance dependence of charge separation reactions on the sub-nanometer scale can be used to develop conformationally flexible PET-biosensors. These sensors enable the detection of specific target molecules in the sub-picomolar range and allow one to follow their molecular binding dynamics with temporal resolution.
Keywords: conformational dynamics, protein folding, single-molecule spectroscopy, photoinduced electron transfer, dna hairpins, pet-biosensors
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