Technion Researchers Discover New Light-Sensing Protein

A new family of light-sensing proteins was discovered during a research study conducted by PhD student Alina Pushkarev, under the supervision of Professor Oded Beja in the Marine Microbiology Lab at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Photosynthesis, a process which is integral to the growth of plants, algae, and aquatic bacteria, is a common and well-known form of harvesting the sun’s energy. However, there is a second form of photosynthesis, via rhodopsins, that captures light through a retinal-bound proteins that binds to a vitamin A derivative, and can enable living organisms to harvest the energy of the sun. The researcher had initially set out to identify rhodopsins in DNA samples from the Sea of Galilee, but in the process discovered a completely new family of the proteins, which they named heliorhodopsins, from the Greek word helios, which means sun. Discussion of the findings and their unique traits were published in the scientific journal Nature, and the team hopes that the discovery can contribute something new to the field of optogenetics, which uses rhodopsins to treat neuronal disease and correct cardiac rhythms.