The cell is a dense environment composes of proteins, nucleic acids, as well as other small molecules, which are constantly bombarding each other and interacting. These interactions and the diffusive motions are driven by internal thermal fluctuations. Upon collision, molecules can interact and form complexes. It is of interest to learn kinetic parameters such as reaction rates of one molecule converting to different species or two molecules colliding and form a new species as well as to learn diffusion coefficients.
Several experimental measurements can probe diffusion coefficients at the single-molecule and bulk level. The target of this thesis is on single-molecule methods, which can assess diffusion coefficients at the individual molecular level. For instance, super resolution methods like stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) and photo activated localization microscopy (PALM), have a high spatial resolution with the cost of lower temporal resolution. Also, there is a different group of methods, such as MINFLUX, multi-detector tracking, which can track a single molecule with high spatio-temporal resolution. The problem with these methods is that they are only applicable to very diluted samples since they need to ensure existence of a single molecule in the region of interest (ROI).
In this thesis, the goal is to have the best of both worlds by achieving high spatio-temporal resolutions without being limited to a few molecules. To do so, one needs to refocus on fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) as a method that applies to both in vivo and in vitro systems with a high temporal resolution and relies on multiple molecules traversing a confocal volume for an extended period of time. The difficulty here is that the interpretation of the signal leads to different estimates for the kinetic parameters such as diffusion coefficients based on a different number of molecules we consider in the model. It is for this reason that the focus of this thesis is now on using Bayesian nonparametrics (BNPs) as a way to solve this model selection problem and extract kinetic parameters such as diffusion coefficients at the single-molecule level from a few photons, and thus with the highest temporal resolution as possible.
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