Microbial rhodopsins are an important class of light-activated transmembrane proteins whose function is typically studied on bulk samples. Herein, we apply photochromic fluorescence resonance energy transfer to investigate the dynamics of these proteins with sensitivity approaching the single-molecule limit. The brightness of a covalently linked organic fluorophore is modulated by changes in the absorption spectrum of the endogenous retinal chromophore that occur as the molecule undergoes a light-activated photocycle. We studied the photocycles of blue-absorbing proteorhodopsin and sensory rhodopsin II (SRII). Clusters of 2–3 molecules of SRII clearly showed a light-induced photocycle. Single molecules of SRII showed a photocycle upon signal averaging over several illumination cycles.
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