American Chemical Society
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The Unlimited Potential of Microbial Rhodopsins as Optical Tools

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posted on 2019-12-16, 16:07 authored by Keiichi Kojima, Atsushi Shibukawa, Yuki Sudo
Microbial rhodopsins, a photoactive membrane protein family, serve as fundamental tools for optogenetics, an innovative technology for controlling biological activities with light. Microbial rhodopsins are widely distributed in nature and have a wide variety of biological functions. Regardless of the many different known types of microbial rhodopsins, only a few of them have been used in optogenetics to control neural activity to understand neural networks. The efforts of our group have been aimed at identifying and characterizing novel rhodopsins from nature and also at engineering novel variant rhodopsins by rational design. On the basis of the molecular and functional characteristics of those novel rhodopsins, we have proposed new rhodopsin-based optogenetics tools to control not only neural activities but also “non-neural” activities. In this Perspective, we introduce the achievements and summarize future challenges in creating optogenetics tools using rhodopsins. The implementation of optogenetics deep inside an in vivo brain is the well-known challenge for existing rhodopsins. As a perspective to address this challenge, we introduce innovative optical illumination techniques using wavefront shaping that can reinforce the low light sensitivity of the rhodopsins and realize deep-brain optogenetics. The applications of our optogenetics tools could be extended to manipulate non-neural biological activities such as gene expression, apoptosis, energy production, and muscle contraction. We also discuss the potentially unlimited biotechnological applications of microbial rhodopsins in the future such as in photovoltaic devices and in drug delivery systems. We believe that advances in the field will greatly expand the potential uses of microbial rhodopsins as optical tools.