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May 25, 2017
Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) is a widely used single-molecule technique for measuring nanoscale distances from changes in the non-radiative transfer of energy between donor and acceptor fluorophores. For macromolecules and complexes this observed transfer efficiency is used to infer changes in molecular conformation under differing experimental conditions. However, sometimes shifts are observed in the FRET efficiency even when there is strong experimental evidence that the molecular conformational state is unchanged. We investigate ways in which such discrepancies can arise from kinetic effects. We show that significant shifts can arise from the interplay between excitation kinetics, orientation diffusion of fluorophores, separation diffusion of fluorophores, and non-emitting quenching.