scientific article | International Journal of Molecular Sciences | open access
Bollati E, Plimmer D, D’Angelo C, Wiedenmann J
Photoconvertible fluorescent proteins (pcRFPs) are a group of fluorophores that undergo an irreversible green-to-red shift in emission colour upon irradiation with near-ultraviolet (near-UV) light. Despite their wide application in biotechnology, the high-level expression of pcRFPs in mesophotic and depth-generalist coral species currently lacks a biological explanation. Additionally, reduced penetration of near-UV wavelengths in water poses the question whether light-driven photoconversion is relevant in the mesophotic zone, or whether a different mechanism is involved in the post-translational pigment modification in vivo. Here, we show in a long-term mesocosm experiment that photoconversion in vivo is entirely dependent on near-UV wavelengths. However, a near-UV intensity equivalent to the mesophotic underwater light field at 80 m depth is sufficient to drive the process in vitro, suggesting that photoconversion can occur near the lower distribution limits of these corals. Furthermore, live coral colonies showed evidence of efficient Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET). Our simulated mesophotic light field maintained the pcRFP pool in a partially photoconverted state in vivo, maximising intra-tetrameric FRET and creating a long-range wavelength conversion system with higher quantum yield than other native RFPs. We hypothesise that efficient conversion of blue wavelengths, abundant at depth, into orange-red light could constitute an adaptation of corals to life in light-limited environments.