De novo synthetic biliprotein design, assembly and excitation energy transfer

Joshua A. Mancini, Molly Sheehan, Goutham Kodali, Brian Y. Chow, Donald A. Bryant, P. Leslie Dutton, Christopher C. Moser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Bilins are linear tetrapyrrole chromophores with a wide range of visible and near-visible light absorption and emission properties. These properties are tuned upon binding to natural proteins and exploited in photosynthetic light-harvesting and non-photosynthetic light-sensitive signalling. These pigmented proteins are now being manipulated to develop fluorescent experimental tools. To engineer the optical properties of bound bilins for specific applications more flexibly, we have used first principles of protein folding to design novel, stable and highly adaptable bilin-binding four-a-helix bundle protein frames, called maquettes, and explored the minimal requirements underlying covalent bilin ligation and conformational restriction responsible for the strong and variable absorption, fluorescence and excitation energy transfer of these proteins. Biliverdin, phycocyanobilin and phycoerythrobilin bind covalently to maquette Cys in vitro. A blue-shifted tripyrrole formed from maquette-bound phycocyanobilin displays a quantum yield of 26%. Although unrelated in fold and sequence to natural phycobiliproteins, bilin lyases nevertheless interact with maquettes during co-expression in Escherichia coli to improve the efficiency of bilin binding and influence bilin structure. Bilins bind in vitro and in vivo to Cys residues placed in loops, towards the amino end or in the middle of helices but bind poorly at the carboxyl end of helices. Bilin-binding efficiency and fluorescence yield are improved by Arg and Asp residues adjacent to the ligating Cys on the same helix and by His residues on adjacent helices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180021
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number141
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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