Stryer and coworkers pioneered the use of fluorescence spectroscopy, particularly Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET), to monitor the structure and dynamics of biological macromolecules. In 1967, Stryer and Haugland showed that the efficiency of energy transfer depends on the inverse sixth power of the distance between the donor and acceptor, as predicted by Förster's theory. They proposed that energy transfer can serve as a spectroscopic ruler to reveal proximity relationships in biological macromolecules.
A second contribution was Stryer's discovery of the primary stage of amplification in visual excitation. Stryer, together with Fung and Hurley, showed that a single photoexcited rhodopsin molecule activates many molecules of transducin, which in turn activate many molecules of a cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase. Stryer's laboratory has also contributed to our understanding of the role of calcium in visual recovery and adaptation.
Stryer participated in developing light-directed, spatially addressable parallel chemical synthesis for the synthesis of peptides and polynucleotides. Light-directed combinatorial synthesis has been used by Stephen Fodor and coworkers at Affymetrix to make DNA arrays containing millions of different sequences for genetic analyses.
Starting in 1975, Stryer authored eight editions of a textbook entitled Biochemistry.
Stryer also chaired a National Research Council committee that produced a report entitled Bio2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists.
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