If you think FRET stands for Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer, you are wrong … in good company but wrong. FRET actually stands for Förster Resonance Energy Transfer. Find out why and more about FRET in this article.
In 2011, it was the centenary of the birth of eminent German physical chemist Theodor Förster. Förster was a very significant figure in his field. His work provided important insights to the nature of excited-state photochemical reactions and the understanding of organic dyes. His most famous contribution was his work on the electrostatically mediated energy transfer between sensitiser and acceptor molecules. And while it is quite possible that you have never heard Förster name before – I beat you HAVE heard of the technique that bears his name: Förster Resonance Energy Transfer or FRET. One of the reasons for this discrepancy maybe because you always thought these initials stood for "Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer" – which is OK, but strictly speaking not entirely correct, as we will see below.
FRET is key to a wide range of natural phenomena, including photosynthesis. However, its application in microscopy and its ability to uncover molecular processes in biological systems at the microscopical level is what I will focus on in this article.
Illustration: Conditions du transfert d’énergie by Maurel Damien/wikimedia