Imaging fluorescently labeled biomolecules on a single-molecule level is a well-established technique to follow intra- and intermolecular processes in time, usually hidden in the ensemble average. The classical approach comprises surface immobilization of the molecule of interest, which increases the risk of restricting the natural behavior due to surface interactions. Encapsulation of such biomolecules into surface-tethered phospholipid vesicles enables to follow one molecule at a time, freely diffusing and without disturbing surface interactions. Further, the encapsulation allows to keep reaction partners (reactants and products) in close proximity and enables higher temperatures otherwise leading to desorption of the direct immobilized biomolecules.
Here, we describe a detailed protocol for the encapsulation of a catalytically active RNA starting from surface passivation over RNA encapsulation to data evaluation of single-molecule FRET experiments in TIRF microscopy. We present an optimized procedure that preserves RNA functionality and applies to investigations of, e.g., large ribozymes and RNAs, where direct immobilization is structurally not possible.