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Breakthrough research at Hormel Institute using light-activated proteins for targeted therapy

The Nucleotide Metabolism & Drug Discovery lab at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota in Austin led by Dr. Jarrod French, recently published three research papers in major scientific journals. The articles detail the research group’s work on two classes of photoreceptor proteins activated by blue light.

This research stems from ongoing collaborations involving Dr. French’s lab and researchers Drs.Tonge and Simmerling from Stony Brook University, Dr. Meech from The University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and Dr. Gardner from the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center.

The two classes of proteins studied include the Blue-light Using FAD (BLUF) proteins and the
Light-Oxygen-Voltage (LOV) proteins. Specifically, the researchers worked with the BLUF protein
from the pathogenic organism Acinetobacter baumannii, called BlsA, and the LOV protein from
the oat plant Avena sativa, called AsLOV2.

In their study of BlsA, the researchers determined that this BLUF protein undergoes distinct
protein structural changes when exposed to blue light. They also identified that this protein
interacts with, and controls the function of, a protein that regulates biofilm formation called
BfmR (Biofilm Regulatory protein). Biofilm formation is a process where microorganisms stick to
each other and a surface and continue to grow and multiply – the plaque that grows on teeth is
an example of a biofilm.

In addition to the implications for the development of optogenetic tools, this work may help to
identify novel means to disrupt biofilms formed by A. baumannii, a major contributor to
hospital-acquired infections.


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