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New Technique That Shows How a Protein “Light Switch” Works May Enhance Biological Research

Dronpa fig
Tonge
Professor Peter Tonge

Sunlight is essential for all life, and living organisms have evolved to sense and respond to light. Dronpa is a protein “light switch” that can be turned on and off by light. A team of scientists led by Peter Tonge, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook University, has discovered a way to use infrared spectroscopy to determine for the first time structure changes that occur in dronpa during the transition from the dark (off) state to the light (on) state.

The findings are reported in a paper published in Nature Chemistry.

According to Tonge, the technique and the team’s findings will help the researchers understand how this light switch works and enable them to redesign dronpa for applications in biology and medicine.

“A key challenge in understanding how the switch works in dronpa is to determine how the initial interaction of light — which happens extremely fast, in less than one quadrillionth of a second — changes the dynamics and ultimately turns the switch on in a process that occurs millions of times more slowly. In our work we used an instrument that can look at the vibrations of dronpa over many decades of time so that we could visualize the entire activation process in one experiment,” he explained.

This diagram shows how the dronpa light switch can be turned on or off by using different colors of light (at 400 or 450 nm).
This diagram shows how the dronpa light switch can be turned on or off by using different colors of light (at 400 or 450 nm).

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

For more information about Professor Tonge’s research, visit his lab page.

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