Can You Program a Protein?

Scientists design molecule that takes the first step for turning sunlight into fuels

This protein may offer insight into the mechanism by which the first photosynthetic proteins induced charge separation, the first step in creating fuels.

Trees and other plants turn sunlight into fuel without using rare minerals or finicky conditions. Scientists are writing the design guide for stripped-down molecules that could one day turn sunlight into fuel to heat homes and run manufacturing plants. The challenge is the intricacy of the steps involved. Scientists have uncovered a new way to design those first steps. They programmed a simple protein bundle to capture sunlight, excite electrons, and move those electrons. Their work writes a new section in the design guide and, one day, could lead to molecules that mimic leaves and create fuel from sunshine. Scientists at the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center, led by the Washington University in St. Louis, did the research.

More Information: 

Lichtenstein BR, C Bialas, JF Cerda, BA Fry, PL Dutton, and CC Moser. 2015. "Designing Light-Activated Charge-Separating Proteins with a Naphthoquinone Amino Acid." Angewandte Chemie International Edition 54(46):13626-13629. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201507094