Research Article

Nanometer resolution imaging and tracking of fluorescent molecules with minimal photon fluxes

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Science  10 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6325, pp. 606-612
DOI: 10.1126/science.aak9913

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Superresolution imaging in sharper focus

An optical microscope cannot distinguish objects separated by less than half the wavelength of light. Superresolution techniques have broken this “diffraction limit” and provided exciting new insights into cell biology. Still, such techniques hit a limit at a resolution of about 10 nm. Balzarotti et al. describe another way of localizing single molecules called MINFLUX (see the Perspective by Xiao and Ha). As in photoactivated localization microscopy and stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy, fluorophores are stochastically switched on and off, but the emitter is located using an excitation beam that is doughnut-shaped, as in stimulated emission depletion. Finding the point where emission is minimal reduces the number of photons needed to localize an emitter. MINFLUX attained ∼1-nanometer precision, and, in single-particle tracking, achieved a 100-fold enhancement in temporal resolution.

Science, this issue p. 606; see also p. 582


We introduce MINFLUX, a concept for localizing photon emitters in space. By probing the emitter with a local intensity minimum of excitation light, MINFLUX minimizes the fluorescence photons needed for high localization precision. In our experiments, 22 times fewer fluorescence photons are required as compared to popular centroid localization. In superresolution microscopy, MINFLUX attained ~1-nm precision, resolving molecules only 6 nanometers apart. MINFLUX tracking of single fluorescent proteins increased the temporal resolution and the number of localizations per trace by a factor of 100, as demonstrated with diffusing 30S ribosomal subunits in living Escherichia coli. As conceptual limits have not been reached, we expect this localization modality to break new ground for observing the dynamics, distribution, and structure of macromolecules in living cells and beyond.

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