Optical Control of Cellular Processes

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Nature controls biological processes with exquisite spatial and temporal precision. In order to study and understand these processes, an equally precise external control element is required. Light is an excellent tool for this purpose, as it can be precisely regulated in timing, location, wavelength, and amplitude, thereby enabling high-resolution optical control of biological processes. We are developing optobiological tools that are based on our ability to combine synthetic chemistry with cell and molecular biology. These tools enable the optical control of protein, RNA, and DNA function in bacterial and mammalian cells, as well as animal models. Our approach is based on a fundamental concept: the blocking of essential functional groups on biologically active molecules with light-removable protecting groups, so called "caging groups". These caging groups are site-specifically installed, rendering the biological target completely inactive, until they are removed through illumination with UV, visible, or IR light. In order to introduce caging groups site-specifically into proteins, we are applying a synthetic biology approach using cells engineered with an expanded genetic code. The protein containing the caged amino acid, typically in an active site location, is expressed inside the cells and is inactive until brief exposure to light removes the caging group and activates protein function. The cellular process placed under optochemical control can then be studied with high spatial and temporal resolution, enabling the investigation of biological questions that could not be answered with traditional molecular approaches.


PhD 2000, University of Münster, Germany

Postdoctoral Training

2001-2002, University of Texas at Austin
2002-2004, The Scripps Research Institute

Department of Chemistry
University of Pittsburgh
Chevron Science Center
Pittsburgh, PA 15261

Phone: (412) 624-7554

E-mail: deiters@pitt.edu

Website: http://www.pitt.edu/~deiters/