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BBSRC sLoLa Grant to Pioneer Biological Electronics

Bruce Lichtenstein (Portsmouth)

6 April 2022

Professor Adrian Mulholland, Dr Tom Oliver and Dr Sofia Oliveira from the School of Chemistry have been awarded a 5-year £4.9 m Strategic Longer and Larger (sLoLa) grant by BBSRC entitled “Creating and comprehending the circuitry of life: precise biomolecular design of multi-centre redox enzymes for a synthetic metabolism”.

The grant is led by Dr Ross Anderson (Bristol Biochemistry) and brings together researchers from Bristol Chemistry and Biochemistry, Portsmouth, UEA and UCL.

The flow of electrons and capture of solar energy within protein-based molecular wires and circuitry is essential to all life on Earth, and underpin important processes such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration. The ‘design principles’ of exquisite natural nanoscale biomolecular electron and energy conducting circuits are not understood and so have not been utilised. The project will unlock this potential, and create new modular de novo proteins capable of acting as efficient biomolecular circuits for broadband light-harvesting, long-range electron/energy transfer, and catalysis. This will ultimately lead to tailor-made catalysts for green industrial biotechnology or tuneable biocompatible protein-based solar panels. Integrating these artificial biological circuits into cells may also provide new routes to biosensors, useful for diagnosis and treatment of a range of diseases.

Mulholland and Oliveira will use state-of-the art computational methods and virtual reality tools to design new proteins with atomic-level precision and tailor their redox properties by tuning the energetic landscape to funnel energy and/or electron transfer in specific directions.

Oliver will establish a unique and world-leading laser system at Bristol to unravel the long-range flow of energy and charge on timescales spanning femtoseconds-to-milliseconds. The experiments will provide molecular-level mechanistic insights into the directionality and efficiency of the desired energy and charge transfer processes within individual and arrays of de novo proteins.

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