Light-sensitive protein mimic could allow better study of vision biochemistry

A team of scientists at Bristol University (England) has created an artificial mimic of a key light-sensitive protein—work that could lead to new ways of building light-sensitive artificial cells.

Related: Light-sensitive molecule stimulates nerve cells in the eye, brain

Professor Jonathan Clayden and colleagues in Bristol's School of Chemistry, along with collaborators at the University of Manchester and University of Hull (both in England), created an artificial mimic of rhodopsin, a protein that resides in cell membranes in the retina. The absorption of light by rhodopsin is the first step in the biochemistry of vision.

Using molecular design features taken from some antibiotic molecules that also bind to membranes, the researchers were able to design and build a molecule that finds its way into a membrane and switches between different shapes in response to light of specific wavelengths.

Scientists mimic the way the eye perceives light using a synthetic molecule. (Credit: School of Chemistry, University of Bristol)

The work reveals that unlike many natural molecules, these artificial structures have similar properties in solution and in membranes, making the prediction of their behavior much more reliable.

The research team's discovery, according to Prof. Clayden, could lead to new ways of building light-sensitive artificial cells, and could allow scientists to bypass the usual communication mechanisms used by cells.

Full details of the work appear in the journal Science; for more information, please visit http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2016/03/30/science.aad8352.full.

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