Microscope images of fluctuating biopolymers contain a wealth of information about their underlying mechanics and dynamics. However, successful extraction of this information requires precise localization of filament position and shape from thousands of noisy images. Here, we present careful measurements of the bending dynamics of filamentous (F-)actin and microtubules at thermal equilibrium with high spatial and temporal resolution using a new, simple but robust, automated image analysis algorithm with subpixel accuracy. We find that slender actin filaments have a persistence length of ∼17 μm, and display a q-4-dependent relaxation spectrum, as expected from viscous drag. Microtubules have a persistence length of several millimeters; interestingly, there is a small correlation between total microtubule length and rigidity, with shorter filaments appearing softer. However, we show that this correlation can arise, in principle, from intrinsic measurement noise that must be carefully considered. The dynamic behavior of the bending of microtubules also appears more complex than that of F-actin, reflecting their higher-order structure. These results emphasize both the power and limitations of light microscopy techniques for studying the mechanics and dynamics of biopolymers.
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