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New biomolecule can be switched on using light

(Vienna, 2 March 2010) A molecule that works on the key-and-lock principle but only meets its task following targeted exposure to light has been developed by scientists headed by Robert Tampe from Frankfurt University. This allows targeted control e.g. for chemical bonds. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna around Dieter Blaas contributed fluorescent viruses to the experiment. The studies were published in the latest issue of the science magazine "PNAS".

The light-controlled construct comprises two parts in principle: the actual binding molecule, a so-called complexing agent, a linker molecule and an inhibitor. In this process, explained Blaas to the Austrian Press Agency, only a "photo-cleavable amino acid" in the linking section responds to light. In the combination of its parts, the structure is inactive. Only when exposed to light does it break up on the amino acid and the binding molecule becomes active and can meet its task.

The scientists involved in the experiment worked on viruses including fluorescent common cold viruses. Following the exposure of the molecule combination on a surface, a virus receptor that is added to it positions itself on the samples that have been exposed to light. As soon as the fluorescent virus is subsequently added, it binds precisely on the samples of the activated molecules. It is possible that this principle will in future be used to prove the presence of biomolecules and viruses.