Discovery of red-shifting mutations in firefly luciferase using high-throughput biochemistry

11 December 2023, Version 2


The Photinus pyralis luciferase (FLuc) has proven a valuable tool for bioluminescence imaging, but much of the light emitted from the native enzyme is absorbed by endogenous biomolecules. Thus, luciferases displaying red-shifted emission enable higher resolution during deep-tissue imaging. A robust model of how protein structure determines emission color would greatly aid the engineering of red-shifted mutants, but no consensus has been reached to date. In this work, we apply deep mutational scanning to systematically assess twenty functionally important amino acid positions on FLuc for red-shifting mutations, predicting that an unbiased approach would enable novel contributions to this debate. We report dozens of red-shifting mutations as a result, a large majority of which have not been previously identified. Further characterization revealed that mutations L286V and T352M, in particular, cause pure red emission with much of the light being >600 nm. The red-shifting mutations identified by this high-throughput approach provide strong biochemical evidence for the multiple-emitter mechanism of color determination, and point to the importance of a water network in the enzyme binding pocket for altering the emitter ratio. This work provides a broadly applicable mutational data set tying FLuc structure to emission color that informs our mechanistic understanding of emission color determination and should facilitate the further engineering of improved probes for deep-tissue imaging.


protein engineering
deep mutational scanning
bioluminescence imaging
statistical coupling analysis

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information for Discovery of red-shifting mutations in firefly luciferase using high- throughput biochemistry
Full experimental procedures and materials used, including oligonucleotide sequences. SCA and curve fitting parameters, reproducibility of screens, comparison of mutability to conservation and substrate proximity, analysis and color scores of enriched populations, identity and additional emission characteristics of red-shifted mutants.

Supplementary weblinks


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