From light to heat to movement: How optical superheating may drive biological light sensing.

Dr Christopher Duffy (primary)
Digital Environment Research Institute (DERI) and the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences
Queen Mary University of London
Dr Stoichko Dimitrov (secondary)
School of Biological and Chemical Sciences
Queen Mary University of London


Light-sensing proteins contain chromophores that absorb light and then rapidly de-excite. Somehow this rapid de-excitation leads to the breaking of hydrogen bonds and the beginning of a signal cascade. The key to this maybe a very short-lived super-heating of the chromophore and surrounding protein that provides the impetus to overcome energy barriers. This project will develop a full theory of how proteins convert light to heat to large scale movement. It will combine theoretical biophysics, molecular simulations, optical spectroscopy and protein purification to understand how biology harnesses, converts and transfers light energy on ultrafast timescales.


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2. M Bondanza, L Cupellini, P Faccioli, B Mennucci* (2020) Molecular Mechanisms of Activation in the Orange Carotenoid Protein Revealed by Molecular Dynamics J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2020, 142, 21829−21841.

3. V Balevičius Jr, T Wei, D Di Tommaso, D Abramavicius, J Hauer, T Polívka, CDP Duffy* (2019). The full dynamics of energy relaxation in large organic molecules: from photo-excitation to solvent heating. Chem. Sci. 10, 4792-4804

4. PE Konold, IHM van Stokkum, F Muzzopappa, A Wilson, M-L Groot, D Kirilovsky, JTM Kennis* (2019) Photoactivation Mechanism, Timing of Protein Secondary Structure Dynamics and Carotenoid Translocation in the Orange Carotenoid Protein. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 141, 520−530

Molecules, cells and industrial biotechnology
Area of Biology
Chemical BiologyStructural Biology
Techniques & Approaches
BiochemistryBioinformaticsBiophysicsMathematics / StatisticsSimulation / Modelling