Experimental and Theoretical Models to Probe Mechanisms of Biological Charge Flow

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Nature is challenged to move charge efficiently over many length scales. From sub-nm to μm distances, electron-transfer proteins orchestrate energy conversion, storage, and release both inside and outside the cell. Uncovering the detailed mechanisms of biological electron-transfer reactions, which are often coupled to bond-breaking and bond-making events, is essential to designing durable, artificial energy conversion systems that mimic the specificity and efficiency of their natural counterparts. Here, we use theoretical modeling of long-distance charge hopping (Chapter 3), synthetic donor-bridge-acceptor molecules (Chapters 4, 5, and 6), and de novo protein design (Chapters 5 and 6) to investigate general principles that govern light-driven and electrochemically driven electron-transfer reactions in biology. We show that fast, μm-distance charge hopping along bacterial nanowires requires closely packed charge carriers with low reorganization energies (Chapter 3); singlet excited-state electronic polarization of supermolecular electron donors can attenuate intersystem crossing yields to lower-energy, oppositely polarized, donor triplet states (Chapter 4); the effective static dielectric constant of a small (~100 residue) de novo designed 4-helical protein bundle can change upon phototriggering an electron transfer event in the protein interior, providing a means to slow the charge-recombination reaction (Chapter 5); and a tightly-packed de novo designed 4-helix protein bundle can drastically alter charge-transfer driving forces of photo-induced amino acid radical formation in the bundle interior, effectively turning off a light-driven oxidation reaction that occurs in organic solvent (Chapter 6). This work leverages unique insights gleaned from proteins designed from scratch that bind synthetic donor-bridge-acceptor molecules that can also be studied in organic solvents, opening new avenues of exploration into the factors critical for protein control of charge flow in biology.






Polizzi, Nicholas Francis (2016). Experimental and Theoretical Models to Probe Mechanisms of Biological Charge Flow. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12907.


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