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ERC Advanced Grant (ERC-2017-ADG): LIFETimes - Light-Induced Function: from Excitation to Signal through Time and Space

To develop and apply new software capable of simulating the biological function of photoresponsive proteins in plants and bacteria: this is the mission of the research project entitled LIFETimes, an acronym of "Light-Induced Function: from Excitation to Signal through Time and Space", for which Professor Benedetta Mennucci, from the Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry of the University of Pisa, received a prestigious grant of €2.4m from the European Research Council (ERC).

The idea behind the project is to start from an apparently simple event, such as the absorption of light by a molecule contained within a protein, to then follow the structural transformations that derive from it, and finally arrive at the biological function. Together with her team, Professor Mennucci will try to simulate the entire sequence of these photo-induced processes on the computer: "The completeness and accuracy of these simulations will represent a turning point in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms that regulate photo-activated biological functions and will help us learn to modify them in a non-invasive way using light, thus being able to obtain an unprecedented space-time resolution."

Thanks to the new observation point proposed by the research, it will be possible not only to reveal Nature's "planned" functioning mechanisms, but also to provide practical tools for artificially testing new techniques for the control of cellular processes.

Out of 2,167 proposals, 269 ERC Advanced Grants were awarded this year to excellent researchers, of which 11 are Italian: LIFETimes is the only project funded in Italy in the Chemistry sector, positively appraised as "high-risk / high-gain" by the most prestigious European agency for research funding, whose only selection criterion is scientific excellence.

Related Documents

From light to life, Università Pisa leads research in the EU

Prof. Benedetta Mennucci awarded an ERC to study how proteins “use” light
LIFETimes project sheet on Cordis


ERC Starting Grant Project (ERC-2011-StG): EnLight - The interplay between quantum coherence and environment in photosynthetic electronic energy transfer and light-harvesting: a quantum chemical picture

Photosynthetic organisms (plants, algae and some bacteria) are characterized by a quantum efficiency of practically 100%: this means that all the light absorbed by the pigments inside the Light-Harvesting proteins (or "antenna" proteins) is transferred to the reaction centre where light energy is transformed into chemical energy. Antenna systems also combine efficiency with extreme “robustness”, being able to adapt to rapid changes in environment and lighting. The explanation for this combination of efficiency and adaptability is not known, yet it is clear that understanding the mechanisms is of fundamental importance to designing artificial systems to better exploit solar energy. The ultimate aim of the EnLight project was precisely that of identifying and explaining the molecular mechanisms underlying the behaviour of the antenna systems of different photosynthetic organisms, and highlighting the role played in these mechanisms by the various elements, i.e., the molecular pigments, the protein matrix and the solvent.

This aim was achieved by formulating new models and transforming them into efficient computational codes capable of simulating the entire dynamic process. The project had a multidisciplinary character, integrating chemical, and therefore molecular, knowledge with computational techniques and interpretative tools typical of biology.

Project website

Factsheet - CORDIS portal

Ultima modifica: Mar 20 Apr 2021 - 07:19

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