Bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a bioluminescent protein donor to a fluorophore acceptor. It shares all the formalism of Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) but differs in one key aspect: that the excited donor here is produced by biochemical means and not by an external illumination. Often the choice of BRET source is the bioluminescent protein Renilla
luciferase, which catalyzes the oxidation of a substrate, typically coelenterazine, producing an oxidized product in its electronic excited state that, in turn, couples with a proximal fluorophore resulting in a fluorescence emission from the acceptor. The acceptors pertinent to this discussion are semiconductor quantum dots (QDs), which offer some unrivalled photophysical properties. Amongst other advantages, the QD’s large Stokes shift is particularly advantageous as it allows easy and accurate deconstruction of acceptor signal, which is difficult to attain using organic dyes or fluorescent proteins. QD-BRET systems are gaining popularity in non-invasive bioimaging and as probes for biosensing as they don’t require external optical illumination, which dramatically improves the signal-to-noise ratio by avoiding background auto-fluorescence. Despite the additional advantages such systems offer, there are challenges lying ahead that need to be addressed before they are utilized for translational types of research.
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