Most biological phenomena occur at the nanometer scale, which is not accessible by the conventional optical techniques because of the optical diffraction limitation. Tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (TERS), one of the burgeoning probing techniques, not only can provide the topography characterization with high resolution, but also can deliver the chemical or molecular information of a sample beyond the optical diffraction limitation. Therefore, it has been widely used in various structural analyses pertaining to materials science, tissue engineering, biological processes and so on. Based on the different feedback mechanisms, TERS can be classified into three types: atomic force microscopy based TERS system (AFM-TERS), scanning tunneling microscopy based TERS system (STM-TERS) and shear force microscopy based TERS system (SFM-TERS). Among them, AFM-TERS is the most widely adopted feedback system by live biosamples because it can work in liquid and this allows the investigation of biological molecules under native conditions. In this review, we mainly focus on the applications of AFM-TERS in three biological systems: nucleic acids, proteins and pathogens. From the TERS characterization to the data analysis, this review demonstrates that AFM-TERS has great potential applications to visually characterizing the biomolecular structure and crucially detecting more nano-chemical information of biological systems.
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