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STRATUS Report Summary

Project ID: 291198
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Italy

Final Report Summary - STRATUS (Structure and dynamics of biomolecules by two-dimensional ultraviolet spectroscopy)

Light is a powerful tool available to physicists, chemists and biologists in order to study the properties of matter. Most of the biologically relevant molecules (such as DNA and proteins) absorb light in the ultraviolet (UV) frequency range. The STRATUS project has developed a novel sophisticated optical spectroscopy technique, two-dimensional UV (2DUV) spectroscopy. 2DUV can be considered as the extension to the UV range of the well-known 2D nuclear magnetic resonance, which uses radio-frequency electromagnetic waves. 2DUV promises to yield a wealth of dynamical and structural information on biomolecules.
Extension of 2D spectroscopy to optical frequencies presents several technical difficulties which, while already significant with visible light, become even more challenging in the UV. During the STRATUS project, the experimental group led by Prof. Giulio Cerullo (Politecnico di Milano, Italy) has devised methods to overcome these problems and establish 2DUV spectroscopy as an experimental tool. The theoretical support necessary to interpret the 2DUV data has been provided by the Co-Investigator Prof. Marco Garavelli, computational photochemist at Bologna University (Italy). The new experimental and computational methods developed in the STRATUS project have been applied to two important biochemical problems: study of photoprotection mechanisms in DNA and analysis of structural changes in proteins, which are the origin of several neurodegenerative diseases. In DNA, a surprisingly small fraction of the absorbed UV photons leads to damage of the molecular structure of the double helix, and hence to changes in our genetic information. This is due to a built-in safety mechanism that relies on ultrafast conversion of electronic energy to vibrational energy. 2DUV spectroscopy sheds light onto this mechanism, enabling us to understand how nature is able to avoid potentially life-threatening DNA damage. Another application of the 2DUV technique is to study the folding properties of proteins – an important topic as diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and type II diabetes are connected to misfolding of the peptide chains that make up the proteins.

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