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  1. null (Ed.)
    Biliverdin is a bile pigment that has a very low fluorescence quantum yield in solution, but serves as a chromophore in far-red fluorescent proteins being developed for bio-imaging. In this work, excited-state dynamics of biliverdin dimethyl ether (BVE) in solvents were investigated using femtosecond (fs) and picosecond (ps) time-resolved absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy. This study is the first fs timescale investigation of BVE in solvents, and therefore revealed numerous dynamics that were not resolved in previous, 200 ps time resolution measurements. Viscosity- and isotope-dependent experiments were performed to identify the contributions of isomerization and proton transfer to the excited-state dynamics. In aprotic solvents, a ∼2 ps non-radiative decay accounts for 95% of the excited-state population loss. In addition, a minor ∼30 ps emissive decay pathway is likely associated with an incomplete isomerization process around the C15C16 double bond that results in a flip of the D-ring. In protic solvents, the dynamics are more complex due to hydrogen bond interactions between solute and solvent. In this case, the ∼2 ps decay pathway is a minor channel (15%), whereas ∼70% of the excited-state population decays through an 800 fs emissive pathway. The ∼30 ps timescale associated with isomerization is also observed in protic solvents. The most significant difference in protic solvents is the presence of a >300 ps timescale in which BVE can decay through an emissive state, in parallel with excited-state proton transfer to the solvent. Interestingly, a small fraction of a luminous species, which we designate lumin-BVE (LBVE), is present in protic solvents. 
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  2. 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 moiety of BR leads to high flexibility and structural heterogeneity of UnaG N57A, as seen in the X-ray crystal structure. 
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