Journal of the American Chemical Society
The photoreceptor protein cryptochrome is thought to host, upon light absorption, a radical pair which is sensitive to very weak magnetic fields, endowing migratory birds with a magnetic compass sense. The molecular mechanism which leads to formation of a stabilised, magnetic field sensitive radical pair has despite various theoretical and experimental efforts not been unambiguously identified yet. We challenge this unambiguity through a unique quantum mechanical molecular dynamics approach where we perform electron transfer dynamics simulations taking into account the motion of the protein upon the electron transfer. This approach allows us to follow the time evolution of the electron transfer in an unbiased fashion and to reveal the molecular driving force which ensures fast electron transfer in cryptochrome guaranteeing formation of a persistent radical pair suitable for magnetoreception. We argue that this unraveled molecular mechanism is a general principle inherent to all proteins of the cryptochrome/photolyase family and that cryptochromes are, therefore, tailored to potentially function as efficient chemical magnetoreceptors.