Experimental and Theoretical Models to Probe Mechanisms of Biological Charge Flow

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2016

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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.

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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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