A study in The Journal of General Physiology sets the stage for better understanding of singlet oxygen, a highly reactive and challenging substance.
Singlet oxygen is an electronically excited state of oxygen that is less stable than normal oxygen. Its high reactivity has enabled its use in photodynamic therapy, in which light is used in combination with a photosensitizing drug to generate large amounts of singlet oxygen to kill cancer cells or various pathogens.
Light-generated singlet oxygen also plays a role in a range of biological processes. It is produced during photosynthesis in plants, for example, and its production in skin cells has been linked to aging and cancer development. Moreover, small amounts of singlet oxygen produced during metabolic reactions can act as a local signaling factor that oxidizes and modifies target molecules, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood.
The findings not only help explain how singlet oxygen functions, they introduce a method that can be used for further exploration of this important signaling factor.