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Scientists switch DNA on and off using light

Scientists switch DNA on and off using light

Monday 18 January 2021

DNA is the basis of life on earth. The function of DNA is to carry genetic information. It has all the instructions an organism needs to develop, function and reproduce.

A team of researchers, headed by Professor Andrea Rentmeister from the Institute of Biochemistry at the University of Münster, have now developed a strategy for controlling the biological functions of DNA using light. They did this by using Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter’s 2018 Nobel Prize-winning technique known as protein engineering, a field which enables researchers to better understand and control the different processes that take place in the cell – for example epigenetics, the key chemical change and regulatory lever in DNA.

The cell’s functions depend on enzymes which carry out chemical reactions in the cell. They help to synthesise metabolic products, make copies of the DNA molecules, convert energy for the cell’s activities, change DNA epigenetically and break down specific molecules.

Researchers used an enzymatic cascade reaction to understand and track these functions better. This sequence of successive reaction steps involving different enzymes makes it possible to transfer so-called photocaging groups (chemical groups that can be removed through irradiation with light) to DNA. Previous studies had shown that only small residues could be transferred very selectively to DNA, RNA or proteins.

“As a result of our work, it is now possible to transfer larger residues or modifications such as the photocaging groups just mentioned,” explains Nils Klöcker, one of the lead authors of the study and a PhD student at the Institute of Biochemistry. Working together with structural biologist Professor Daniel Kümmel, it was also possible to explain the basis for the changed activity at a molecular level.


  1. Forbes.
  2. SciTechDaily.
  3. Uni Muenster.


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