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

Dronpa Fig

This image depicts how the Dronpa light switch can be turned on or off by using different colors of light (at 400 or 450 nm).

Stony Brook, NY, June 14, 2018 – 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. Their findings are reported in a paper published early online in Nature Chemistry.

According to Tonge, the technique and their 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 very, very 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.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation (CHE-1223819), and the EPSRC (EP/N033647/1 and EP/M001997/1).

For a copy of the publication/paper or to arrange an interview with the corresponding author please call Stony Brook University Office of Media Relations at 631-632-6310.



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Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become a flagship as one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 50 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $4.6 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.



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