Atomic force microscopy of biological samples
The ability to evaluate structural-functional relationships in real time has allowed scanning probe microscopy (SPM) to assume a prominent role in post genomic biological research. In this mini-review, we highlight the development of imaging and ancillary techniques that have allowed SPM to permeate many key areas of contemporary research. We begin by examining the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) by Binnig and Rohrer in 1982 and discuss how it served to team biologists with physicists to integrate high-resolution microscopy into biological science. We point to the problems of imaging nonconductive biological samples with the STM and relate how this led to the evolution of the atomic force microscope (AFM) developed by Binnig, Quate, and Gerber, in 1986. Commercialization in the late 1980s established SPM as a powerful research tool in the biological research community. Contact mode AFM imaging was soon complemented by the development of non-contact imaging modes. These non-contact modes eventually became the primary focus for further new applications including the development of fast scanning methods. The extreme sensitivity of the AFM cantilever was recognized and has been developed into applications for measuring forces required for indenting biological surfaces and breaking bonds between biomolecules. Further functional augmentation to the cantilever tip allowed development of new and emerging techniques including scanning ion-conductance microscopy (SICM), scanning electrochemical microscope (SECM), Kelvin force microscopy (KFM) and scanning near field ultrasonic holography (SNFUH).