In FET Open Project, Researchers Chart Course for Bio-LEDs

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GRAZ, Austria, March 5, 2020 — Scientists at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) are working with research teams from Spain and Italy on environmentally friendly, inexpensive LEDs. The Graz team, led by Gustav Oberdorfer, is designing proteins with the help of simulation software. “For this project, we’re analyzing fluorescent protein structures from nature and testing how we need to modify them so that they bind different fluorescent organic molecules,” Oberdorfer said.

The three research teams are part of the Future and Enabling Technologies (FET Open) project ENABLED.

The team of Rubén Costa from the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies (IMDEA) developed a stable organic LED coating as an alternative to conventional LED coatings, which typically consist of rare earth minerals. The new coating is made from organic polymers embedded with fluorescent proteins. These fluorescent proteins are the same as those found in marine organisms, which use them to provide light for hunting, communicating, and self-defense.

A research team at the University of Turin, led by Claudia Barolo, is investigating organic dyes that are used in OLEDs and that emit light efficiently. Many of these dyes are costly and challenging to synthesize, the researchers said. Barolo and her team are now looking for a suitable organic dye that can be produced with minimal effort and modified so that it can be incorporated into the fluorescent proteins.

In 2018, TU Graz protein designer Gustav Oberdorfer received a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant for his work on sustainable light sources. Courtesy of Lunghammer/TU Graz.
In 2018, TU Graz protein designer Gustav Oberdorfer received a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant for his work on sustainable light sources. Courtesy of Lunghammer/TU Graz.

To develop artificial fluorescent proteins using bacteria, the Graz biochemists simulated thousands of different hypothetical proteins that could bind the synthetic dyes. A handful of these proteins — specifically those that mirror the structure of naturally fluorescent proteins most closely — were then ordered as synthetic DNA constructs.

The next step will be to determine whether these proteins can actually bind the dyes for which they were designed. Once binding is confirmed, the artificial fluorescent proteins will be integrated into the polymer matrix and tested for their suitability as bio-LEDs.

“The plan is that we will ‘harvest’ the proteins from the bacterial cell. In other words, we will be able to grow some part of the light sources,” Oberdorfer said. The researchers expect to achieve a proof-of- principle at the completion of the FET Open project ENABLED, about four years from now.

Published: March 2020
Fluorescence is a type of luminescence, which is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation. Specifically, fluorescence involves the absorption of light at one wavelength and the subsequent re-emission of light at a longer wavelength. The emitted light occurs almost instantaneously and ceases when the excitation light source is removed. Key characteristics of fluorescence include: Excitation and emission wavelengths: Fluorescent materials...
Research & TechnologyEuropeeducationTU GrazGraz University of TechnologyEuropean Research CouncilFET OpenCoatingsLEDsLight SourcesMaterialsbio-LEDssustainable light sourcesOLEDsfluorescencefluorescent proteinsenvironmentenergyConsumerbioninspired energy sourcesbiomimetrics

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