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  1. Rotation around a specific bond after photoexcitation is central to vision and emerging opportunities in optogenetics, super-resolution microscopy, and photoactive molecular devices. Competing roles for steric and electrostatic effects that govern bond-specific photoisomerization have been widely discussed, the latter originating from chromophore charge transfer upon excitation. We systematically altered the electrostatic properties of the green fluorescent protein chromophore in a photoswitchable variant, Dronpa2, using amber suppression to introduce electron-donating and electron-withdrawing groups to the phenolate ring. Through analysis of the absorption (color), fluorescence quantum yield, and energy barriers to ground- and excited-state isomerization, we evaluate the contributions of sterics and electrostatics quantitatively and demonstrate how electrostatic effects bias the pathway of chromophore photoisomerization, leading to a generalized framework to guide protein design.
  2. Biological systems are subjected to continuous environmental fluctuations, and therefore, flexibility in the structure and function of their protein building blocks is essential for survival. Protein dynamics are often local conformational changes, which allows multiple dynamical processes to occur simultaneously and rapidly in individual proteins. Experiments often average over these dynamics and their multiplicity, preventing identification of the molecular origin and impact on biological function. Green plants survive under high light by quenching excess energy, and Light-Harvesting Complex Stress Related 1 (LHCSR1) is the protein responsible for quenching in moss. Here, we expand an analysis of the correlation function of the fluorescence lifetime by improving the estimation of the lifetime states and by developing a multicomponent model correlation function, and we apply this analysis at the single-molecule level. Through these advances, we resolve previously hidden rapid dynamics, including multiple parallel processes. By applying this technique to LHCSR1, we identify and quantitate parallel dynamics on hundreds of microseconds and tens of milliseconds timescales, likely at two quenching sites within the protein. These sites are individually controlled in response to fluctuations in sunlight, which provides robust regulation of the light-harvesting machinery. Considering our results in combination with previous structural, spectroscopic, and computationalmore »data, we propose specific pigments that serve as the quenching sites. These findings, therefore, provide a mechanistic basis for quenching, illustrating the ability of this method to uncover protein function.« less