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Atomic Force Microscopy: Contribution to the Birth of Nanocell Biology

Biomolecules Analysis

  1. Bhanu P. Jena

Published Online: 15 SEP 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a9006

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Jena, B. P. 2009. Atomic Force Microscopy: Contribution to the Birth of Nanocell Biology. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2009


Throughout history, the development of new imaging tools has provided new insights into our perceptions of the living world, profoundly impacting human health. The invention of the light microscope over 300 years ago was the first catalyst that propelled us into the era of modern biology and medicine. Using the light microscope, a giant step into the gates of modern medicine was made with the discovery of the unit of life, the cell. The structure and morphology of normal and diseased cells, and of disease-causing microorganisms, were revealed for the first time by the light microscope. Then, in 1938, with the birth of the electron microscope (EM), dawned a new era. Through the mid-1940s and the 1950s, a number of subcellular organelles were discovered and their functions determined using the EM. Viruses, the new life forms were identified and observed for the first time, and implicated in diseases ranging from the common cold to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Despite the capability of the EM to image biological samples at near nanometer resolution, sample processing resulting in morphological alterations remained a major concern. Then in the early 1980s, scanning probe microscopy evolved, further extending our perception of the living world to the subnanometer realm. One such scanning probe microscope, the atomic force microscope (AFM), has helped overcome both limitations of light and electron microscopy, enabling determination of the three-dimensional (3D) structure and dynamics of single biomolecules and live cells, at angstrom resolution. This unique capability of the AFM has provided a new understanding of the cell, through determination of 3D live cellular structure-function, at nanometer to subnanometer resolution and in real time, contributing to the birth of the field of nanocell biology. The story of how the use of the AFM resulted in the discovery of a new cellular structure, the “porosome”—the universal secretory machinery in cells—that allows an understanding of the general molecular machinery and mechanism of cell secretion, is briefly discussed in this article.