Direct detection of molecular intermediates from first-passage times

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Science Advances  01 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 18, eaaz4642
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz4642


All natural phenomena are governed by energy landscapes. However, the direct measurement of this fundamental quantity remains challenging, particularly in complex systems involving intermediate states. Here, we uncover key details of the energy landscapes that underpin a range of experimental systems through quantitative analysis of first-passage time distributions. By combined study of colloidal dynamics in confinement, transport through a biological pore, and the folding kinetics of DNA hairpins, we demonstrate conclusively how a short-time, power-law regime of the first-passage time distribution reflects the number of intermediate states associated with each of these processes, despite their differing length scales, time scales, and interactions. We thereby establish a powerful method for investigating the underlying mechanisms of complex molecular processes.

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