Research Topic

Optogenetic tools in the molecular spotlight

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Photosensory receptors have been in the center of vision research and photobiology since the discovery of rhodopsin in 1876 by Franz Boll. However, only recently the rapid development of optogenetics has placed them in a more general focus. The majority of these biological light-sensors consist of a ...

Photosensory receptors have been in the center of vision research and photobiology since the discovery of rhodopsin in 1876 by Franz Boll. However, only recently the rapid development of optogenetics has placed them in a more general focus. The majority of these biological light-sensors consist of a protein/pigment complex that modulates the activity of a biological effector upon absorption of a photon. With the nowadays available information on the corresponding genes, proteins and the vast access to (meta-)genomic data as well as sophisticated methods in molecular biology and genome engineering the photoreceptor principle of transforming light into biological information is now exploited in many different directions and fields of research.

Photosensory receptors not only represent the backbone of a major methodological development in cell and neurobiology as shown by the rapidly evolving field of optogenetics but also offer bright perspectives for our understanding of dynamic biomolecular processes in general. The ability to use photons as substrates enables researchers to induce and experimentally monitor biomolecular reactions with up to femtosecond resolution. Combined with techniques capable of molecular resolution such time-resolved experiments not only provide dynamic molecular information on the underlying mechanisms of photosensory and general signal transduction, but also will enable us to identify design principles of biological sensor/effector complexes. Ultimately, novel light-responsive tools with customized properties can be rationally designed for application in optogenetics and synthetic biology.

In this Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences Research Topic ‘Optogenetic tools in the molecular spotlight’ we will showcase state-of-the art biophysical methods with molecular resolution for functional investigation of protein/cofactor interaction, protein dynamics and signal transduction applied to photosensory receptors. Furthermore, we will provide an overview on how the obtained insights are implemented in design strategies for rational modification of existing or creation of novel optogenetic tools.


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