Chemists develop a new method which uses light to regulate biochemical processes
The ultraviolet light spectrum is used in research for targeted regulation of biochemical processes, such as protein production or calcium release. However, the harmful effects of UV light have posed a problem for researchers, as even very small amounts of ultraviolet light can badly damage organisms or even kill them. We are all familiar with this effect from sunburn. A working group led by Prof. Dr. Andriy Mokhir from the Chair of Organic Chemistry II at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has recently succeeded in regulating biochemical processes with non-toxic light and the results of this research have now been published.*
As part of their research, Prof. Dr. Mokhir’s research group established a method which can be used to influence biochemical processes through targeted irradiation with non-toxic light. In order to do this, they replaced UV-sensitive molecular fragments – such as 2-nitrobenzyl or coumarin derivatives – with other fragments that respond to non-toxic red light but still fulfil the desired function. Red light is not absorbed by the biomolecules in the cell, meaning that it penetrates the cell without the light’s energy causing any damage. Finally, the light is absorbed by a special, artificial pigment. This is created on the basis of chlorophyll, a pigment which is found in plants. The light energy that is absorbed is used to trigger the desired biochemical processes.
The researchers were able to show in their experiments that this method can be used to restrict protein production with chemically modified ribonucleic acids (siRNAs), for example. In these siRNAs, the pigment is inserted close to a fissile material which allows the transfer of energy to take place. The researchers successfully demonstrated this principle on cervical cancer cells.
The advantage of these new siRNAs is that they are simple and cost-effective to make, and can be inserted into cells using standard procedures. Prof. Dr. Mokhir’s research group therefore anticipate that these siRNA will have a wide range of applications in the future, such as in research into gene functions. The results which could be achieved under these improved research conditions could lead to important discoveries in medical and biological research.
*Meyer, A.; Mokhir, A. RNA interference controlled by light of variable wavelength. (2014), Angew. Chem., DOI: 10.1002/anie.201405885
Prof. Dr. Andriy Mokhir
Phone: +49 9131 8522554