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Engineering bio-inspired chromophore-protein assemblies for solar-energy conversion to fuel

Dr. Elisabet Romero (ICIQ)
Tuesday, 09 April 2024 12:00

Elisabet Romero, Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ), Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), Tarragona, Spain.

Place: conference room, IMDEA Nanociencia.


The design and construction of artificial photosynthetic systems with analogous or even enhanced functionalities to those found in nature is one of the great challenges of modern science.

We have engaged in the quest to design and construct bio-inspired light-activated chromophore-protein assemblies composed by abundant and biodegradable materials with the capacity to absorb, transfer and convert solar to electrochemical energy by following the Quantum Design Principles of Photosynthesis1. Ultimately, these assemblies will be coupled to molecular catalysts for the conversion of solar energy to fuel.

Overall, the scientific question we aim to answer is: Can we Generate and Optimize Energy and Electron Transfer processes in Bio-Inspired Chromophore-Protein Assemblies?

In an initial phase, our approach consists of creating light-harvesting (solar energy absorption and transfer) and charge-separation (energy conversion via electron transfer) units by incorporating up to four chromophores with controllable distances and relative orientations into a four-alpha-helix protein bundle (a smart matrix) to generate coherent energy and electron transfer processes with high efficiency and, even more critical, in the desired direction. To that end, we design our assemblies gradually increasing their complexity: firstly, creating excitonically coupled dimers of chromophores; secondly, introducing charge transfer character in these excitons; and thirdly, establishing coherent coupling within the excitonic manifold. At each stage we probe the assemblies’ electronic/vibrational properties and their energy/electron transfer dynamics by a combination of steady-state and time-resolved spectroscopic methods. In addition, we complement these investigations with computational tools2.

In this seminar, I will report on the progress of our research program.

(1) Romero, E.; Novoderezhkin, V. I.; van Grondelle, R. Quantum design of photosynthesis for bio-inspired solar-energy conversion. Nature 2017, 543 (7645), 355-365, Insight.

(2) Curti, M.; Maffeis, V.; Teixeira Alves Duarte, L. G.; Shareef, S.; Hallado, L. X.; Curutchet, C.; Romero, E. Engineering excitonically coupled dimers in an artificial protein for light harvesting via computational modeling. Protein Science 2023, 32 (3), e4579. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/pro.4579

Short biography: 

Elisabet Romero is a Group Leader at the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ) in Tarragona.  Taking inspiration from Photosynthesis, for which she demonstrated that quantum coherence plays a crucial role to determine the high efficiency of solar-energy conversion, she aims to develop a new generation of bio-inspired systems able to convert solar energy to fuels. Her group’s objective is to design and construct chromophore-protein assemblies based on abundant and biodegradable materials with the capacity to absorb, transfer and convert sunlight into electrochemical energy with high efficiency, that once incorporated into devices will provide a renewable, safe and inexpensive energy solution towards a sustainable future. Furthermore, the Romero Group is working to gain deeper knowledge about energy/electron transfer processes as well as the photoprotection mechanism active in Photosynthetic organisms. To achieve these ambitus goals, she counts with a motivated and talented research team, ultrafast laser spectroscopy as main tool, and with financial support from the ICIQ’s Starting Career Programme, funded by the “Severo Ochoa” grant, along with a European Research Council Starting Grant.