Research Highlights

New, more accurate method overcomes limits of single-molecule localization 

Published online 20 October 2014

Aisha El-Awady

Single-molecule localization and tracking (SMLT) is an important tool used by scientists to determine the locations of single molecules as measured over space and time. 

The method has become the standard technique for studying subcellular dynamics in living cells, such as analysis of receptors and viral infections, and for studying the molecular mechanisms affecting the properties of polymers during production. However, the technology has its limitations; it cannot provide essential information about the size and shape of the molecule nor can it provide an accurate analysis of its diffusion behaviour. 

In a study performed by Maged F. Serag, Maram Abadi and Satoshi Habuchi from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, the scientists discovered a new method that addresses the limitations of single-molecule localization methods, publishing their findings in Nature Communications1.

The team demonstrated that their method is more accurate than the conventional SMLT technique in determining the diffusion properties of molecules. Whereas the conventional SMLT method expresses molecular motion in terms of the molecule’s accurate position over time, the new method was able to track the entire area occupied by molecules over time. 

They found that changes occurring over time depend on the size, diffusion rate and changes in the spatial arrangements of atoms in the molecules.

“Single-molecule imaging techniques can play a major role,” says Habuchi, lead author. “In physics, the new method will provide an excellent tool to study polymer dynamics … In life science, it might open the possibility of studying the molecular mechanism of spatial organization of chromatin in a cell, which has the potential to impact broadly on epigenetics research.” 


  1. Serag, M. F., Abadi, M. & Habuchi, S. et al. Single-molecule diffusion and conformational dynamics by spatial integration of temporal fluctuations. Nature Commun. 5, 5123 (2014).