Among the advantages of the single-molecule approach when used to study biomolecular structural dynamics and interaction is its ability to distinguish between and independently observe minor subpopulations. In a single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) and alternating laser excitation diffusion experiment, the various populations are apparent in the resultant histograms. However, because histograms are calculated based on the per-burst mean FRET and stoichiometry ratio and not on the internal photon distribution, much of the acquired information is lost, thereby reducing the capabilities of the method. Here we suggest what to our knowledge is a novel statistical analysis tool that significantly enhances these capabilities, and we use it to identify and isolate static and dynamic subpopulations. Based on a kernel density estimator and a proper photon distribution analysis, for each individual burst, we calculate scores that reflect properties of interest. Specifically, we determine the FRET efficiency and brightness ratio distributions and use them to reveal 1), the underlying structure of a two-state DNA-hairpin and a DNA hairpin that is bound to DNA origami; 2), a minor doubly labeled dsDNA subpopulation concealed in a larger singly labeled dsDNA; and 3), functioning DNA origami motors concealed within a larger subpopulation of defective motors. Altogether, these findings demonstrate the usefulness of the proposed approach. The method was developed and tested using simulations, its rationality is described, and a computer algorithm is provided.
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