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Many animal tissues/cells are photosensitive, yet only two types of photoreceptors (i.e., opsins and cryptochromes) have been discovered in metazoans. The question arises as to whether unknown types of??photoreceptors exist in the animal kingdom. LITE-1, a seven-transmembrane gustatory receptor (GR) homolog, mediates UV-light-induced avoidance behavior in C.??elegans. However, it is not known whether LITE-1 functions as a chemoreceptor or photoreceptor. Here, we show that LITE-1 directly absorbs both UVA and UVB light with an extinction coefficient 10-100 times that of opsins and cryptochromes, indicating that LITE-1 is highly efficient in capturing photons. Unlike typical photoreceptors employing a prosthetic chromophore to capture photons, LITE-1 strictly depends on its protein conformation for photon absorption. We have further identified two tryptophan residues critical for LITE-1 function. Interestingly, unlike GPCRs, LITE-1 adopts a reversed membrane topology. Thus, LITE-1, a taste receptor homolog, represents a distinct type of photoreceptor in the animal kingdom.

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Light gave life a chance to be. Without it, our planet would not be inhabited by so many living beings of all shapes and sizes. Over time, animals, plants and all sorts of microorganisms have emerged and evolved using this source of photons in different ways....