Seeing the light - chemists create mimic of key vision protein


An artificial mimic of a key light-sensitive molecule has been made by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the Universities of Manchester, Hull and Bristol. Their work, published in Science, could lead to new ways of building light-sensitive artificial cells.

Dr Simon Webb from Manchester and Professor Jonathan Clayden from Bristol, together with other scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Hull, have 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.

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

“We hope that this discovery will allow scientists to develop light-sensitive artificial cells or even bypass the usual communication mechanisms used by living cells. Should this be possible, some disorders within light-sensing cells could be addressed.”
Dr Simon Webb, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology

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