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SNAPSHOT: Fungal Proteins and Optogenetics

With optogenetics, scientists genetically program cells to make proteins that respond to light. Researchers can then use light to control the proteins, which lets them manipulate and study the cell and cell networks. The research technique is opening new frontiers in neuroscience and cell biology.

Researchers at The Graduate Center’s Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) have discovered a class of proteins in fungus that could lead to new optogenetic tools.

The study, co-authored by Professor Kevin Gardner of The City College of New York and the ASRC, appears in the journal PNAS.

A blurry shot of blue light

The proteins are called RGS-LOVs. Under blue light, an RGS-LOV moves to the cell membrane and binds with it. Switch the light off and the protein retreats. This action could make the protein a useful optogenetic tool, the researchers say.

“Imagine you have a protein you want to send to the plasma membrane for a certain time,” said ASRC Ph.D. student Zaynab Jaber, a co-author on the paper. “You can fuse your protein to the RGS-LOV protein and then use blue light to control where it is.”

Study authors also included researchers from the University of Pennsylvania.