STARLIGHT (STeering Attosecond electRon dynamics in biomolecules with UV-XUV LIGHT pulses) is a scientific research project funded by the European Research Council under Horizon 2020 Framework (ERG StG grant agreement n. 637756), which aims at investigating with attosecond time resolution the physical origin of UV-induced damage of our own biomolecules.

The STARLIGHT research team works at the Center for Free Electron Laser Science (CFEL), Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, Germany. STARLIGHT is a joint project between DESY and IFN-CNR (Milan - Italy)

One of the challenges facing science is to understand the chemical origin of DNA damage-induced mutations. Upon exposure to UV light, DNA nucleobases become electronically excited. This process potentially favors mutagenic miscoding of the DNA sequence. The main target of STARLIGHT is to study with extreme time resolution (femtosecond-attosecond) the electron dynamics occurring in UV photo-excited biomolecules. DNA nucleobases (and ultimately DNA) will be investigated with the aim of tracking in real time the electron dynamics preceding structural changes potentially leading to damage.

The proposed research is based on a bottom-up approach: it allows to understand the physical origin of a variety of light-driven processes occurring in more complex biological systems of crucial importance in photo-chemistry and photo-biology, with tremendous prospects in phototherapy.

In particular, the research project aims to reveal the role of electrons in the mechanisms leading to damage or photo-protection of DNA and, ultimately, to control the electronic motion in large biochemically relevant molecules.