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  1. Fluorescent proteins (FPs) have become fundamental tools for live cell imaging. Most FPs currently used are members of the green fluorescent protein super-family, but new fluorophores such as bilin-FPs are being developed and optimized. In particular, the UnaG FP incorporates bilirubin (BR) as a chromophore, enhancing its fluorescence quantum yield by three orders of magnitude relative to that in solution. To investigate the mechanism of this dramatic enhancement and provide a basis for further engineering of UnaG and other tetrapyrrole-based fluorophores, we performed picosecond fluorescence and femtosecond transient absorption measurements of BR bound to UnaG and its N57A site-directed mutant. The dynamics of wt-UnaG, which has a fluorescence QY of 0.51, are largely homogeneous, showing an excited state relaxation of ∼200 ps, and a 2.2 ns excited-state lifetime decay with a kinetic isotope effect (KIE) of 1.1 for D 2 O vs. H 2 O buffer. In contrast, for UnaG N57A (fluorescence QY 0.01) the results show a large spectral inhomogeneity with excited state decay timescales of 47 and 200 ps and a KIE of 1.4. The non-radiative deactivation of the excited state is limited by proton transfer. The loss of direct hydrogen bonds to the endo -vinyl dipyrrinone moietymore »of BR leads to high flexibility and structural heterogeneity of UnaG N57A, as seen in the X-ray crystal structure.« less