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Large grant awarded to Meech research group

The Meech group has been awarded £434,000 By EPSRC to investigate the photodynamics of LOV domain proteins. The LOV domain is found in numerous flavoproteins in bacteria, plants and fungi, where it acts as a light sensor.  For example LOV domain proteins are important in phototropism, where plants bend to make optimal use of available sunshine.  In addition to the intrinsic interest in LOV domains they are now established as one of the key tools in the emerging field of optogenetics, where light activated functions are artificially incorporated into living cells.  This allows the function to be stimulated by light with both temporal and spatial resolution, greatly aiding the study of intracellular processes.

The specific project is a collaboration between UEA, the Central Laser Facility at Harwell and Prof. Peter Tonge’s group at Stony Brook University in the USA. We will use advanced ultrafast laser methods developed at UEA and Harwell to measure the vibrational spectrum between one trillionth and one thousandth of a second after photon excitation of the flavin molecule. This will yield new insights into how protein structures evolve during function. These measurements will suggest models of structural dynamics, which we can then test using chemical biology to modify the function in predictable ways.

The figure shows preliminary measurements of the picosecond to millisecond IR spectrum of a LOV domain recorded at Harwell.