It’s OK to FRET

We all experience fret now and then, that is, worried, distressed, vexed, or troubled feelings and emotions. Not good.

FRET, by contrast, is not so bad when it stands for fluorescence resonance energy transfer. This occurs when a dye molecule absorbs light of a particular color, transfers the energy to a different dye molecule, which in turn emits light of an altogether new color.

And now thanks to work from the Chemistry Department at the University of Connecticut, we may have a way to use FRET to create something potentially practical: DNA lightbulbs.


Neret al. produced nanofibers of DNA containing the two types of fluorescent dyes and showed that ultraviolet (i.e., colorless) excitation could produce blue, orange, or white emission, depending on the conditions (Angewandte Chemie 48: 28 (9 June 2009), 5134–5138). It turns out that nanofibers are much more efficient (brighter) than simpler DNA films containing the same ingredients. Structure matters.

Why should you care? Suppose all the bazillions of semiconductor LEDs (light emitting diodes) we encounter in everyday existence could be replaced with a purely organic material. Quoting the authors, this possibility “is appealing from the perspective of both environmental disposal and utilization of a renewable resource.”

Green chemistry inches ever closer to reality, one experiment at a time.

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Periodic Tabloid is an ongoing record of the activities of the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s staff and scholars, whose work tells the story of chemistry over the centuries up to modern times. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes coverage of our events, exclusive supplemental materials to our publications, analysis of pressing contemporary scientific issues, and much more.