In Germany, researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have developed a new strategy for the design of light-sensitive proteins. Such proteins, also called optogenetic tools, can be switched on and off by light pulses, thereby triggering targeted cellular processes. With their help, it is possible, for example, to study in living organisms and to control how nerve cells transmit signals.
Previously, researchers had to follow the trial-and-error process a lot in the development of optogenetic tools. A combination of computational and experimental techniques now allows a more focused approach.
An example of an optogenetic tool is the protein melanopsin. It can be switched on and off by two differently colored light signals. “Often, more than one optogenetic tool is needed, such as controlling two distinct processes in a cell independently,” explains Raziye Karapinar of the Department of General Zoology and Neurobiology. “Therefore, we must ensure that the color signals for the two tools do not overlap,” adds Bochum biophysicist Dr. Bochum. Till Rudack.
The team developed a hybrid strategy for targeted protein engineering of melanopsin and other optogenetic tools. The scientists combined computational methods with electrophysiological measurements.