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What Is Photolyase?

What Is Photolyase?

Discover the science behind photolyase and how it impacts repairing DNA damage. Thanks to Photozyme products you can expect the best in skincare with…

Key Takeaways: 

  • Unique Repair Mechanism: Photolyase possesses a specialized ability to repair DNA damage specifically caused by ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. Unlike other DNA repair mechanisms that remove and replace damaged DNA sections, photolyase directly reverses the damage using light energy. This process, known as photoreactivation, is highly efficient and restores the DNA to its original, undamaged state by cleaving the bonds of UV-induced lesions such as cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers.
  • Light-Dependent Activation: Photolyase uses visible light to activate its DNA repair function, making it unique among DNA repair enzymes. The enzyme absorbs blue or UV light to gain the energy needed to break the covalent bonds formed during UV exposure, which is a process not found in the DNA repair mechanisms of most mammals, including humans.
  • Evolutionary Significance and Application: The presence of photolyase in bacteria, plants, and some animals but not in humans highlights an interesting evolutionary adaptation to environmental UV radiation. Understanding photolyase's mechanism offers potential applications in biotechnology and medicine, such as enhancing crop resistance to UV damage or developing topical treatments to repair UV-induced DNA damage in human skin, supplementing the body's own repair mechanisms.


Photolyase is a fascinating enzyme that plays a crucial role in repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Found in various organisms such as plants, animals, and even bacteria, photolyase works by harnessing the power of visible light to reverse the harmful effects of UV radiation on DNA molecules. This process, known as photoreactivation, is essential for maintaining the integrity of genetic material and ensuring the proper functioning of cells.

In simpler terms, photolyase acts as a repair mechanism that helps cells bounce back from the damaging effects of sunlight. By utilizing the energy from visible light, photolyase can fix specific types of DNA lesions that result from UV exposure, preventing potential mutations and maintaining the stability of the genetic code. This remarkable ability not only highlights the adaptability and resilience of living organisms but also underscores the intricate mechanisms that have evolved to protect the fundamental building blocks of life.


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Introduction To Photolyase

Photolyase is a fascinating enzyme that has captured the interest of scientists due to its unique ability to repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light. This process, known as photoreactivation, is essential for the survival of many organisms exposed to sunlight, including bacteria, plants, and some animals.

The mechanism of photolyase involves the absorption of blue or near-UV light, which activates the enzyme and enables it to repair specific types of DNA lesions known as cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) and 6-4 photoproducts. These lesions are formed when DNA molecules absorb UV light, leading to the covalent bonding of adjacent pyrimidine bases, which can distort the DNA structure and interfere with normal cellular functions.

Photolyase recognizes these UV-induced lesions and binds to the damaged DNA, where it utilizes the energy from the absorbed light to break the covalent bonds and restore the original structure of the DNA molecule. This repair process is highly efficient and selective, allowing photolyase to specifically target and repair UV-induced DNA damage without affecting undamaged regions of the genome.

The discovery and study of photolyase have provided valuable insights into the molecular mechanisms of DNA repair and the evolutionary adaptations of organisms to their environment. By harnessing the unique capabilities of photolyase, researchers are exploring potential applications in biotechnology, such as the development of new strategies for gene editing and the protection of DNA from environmental stressors.


Understanding DNA Repair

DNA repair is a crucial process that helps maintain the integrity of genetic information within cells. One fascinating player in DNA repair mechanisms is photolyase, a light-activated enzyme that repairs damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.

When our skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun, it can cause lesions in the DNA structure known as pyrimidine dimers. These dimers can interfere with normal DNA replication and transcription processes, leading to mutations and potentially even cancer. This is where photolyase steps in to save the day.

Photolyase works by binding to the damaged DNA and utilizing light energy to repair the pyrimidine dimers. This light energy activates the enzyme, allowing it to break the bonds between the two adjacent pyrimidines, ultimately restoring the DNA to its original undamaged state. Essentially, photolyase acts as a sort of molecular repair kit, fixing the damage caused by UV exposure.

Interestingly, photolyase is not found in all organisms. For example, humans do not possess this enzyme, which is why we rely on other DNA repair mechanisms to fix UV-induced damage. However, photolyase is present in certain bacteria, plants, and animals, where it plays a crucial role in protecting their DNA from the harmful effects of sunlight.

Why DNA Repair Matters

Also known as photodamage, the skin’s DNA is very susceptible to damage from UV light.  Avoid the consequences of UV exposure. 80% of skin aging is due to the sun and no sunscreen is 100% effective. Your skin’s DNA is subject to daily environmental assaults accelerating skin aging. Your body can only process and repair about 50% of this damage in any given day. However, your skin is not defenseless against this damage. 

Where Photozyme Comes In

Thanks to our DNA Enzyme Technology, our products utilize a targeted delivery of natural repair enzymes to help prevent the signs of skin aging from surfacing. These enzymes are:

  • Plant-derived which mimic the body’s natural response to photodamage
  • Encapsulated in a proprietary lipsome delivery system which drives them into the skin delivering the cargo into the cell. 
  • Search and only adhere to the damaged DNA strand.
  • From here, the cell’s natural process takes over, extracting the damage and replicating a healthy DNA strand. 

Why Sunscreen Is Not Enough 

Below you will see a bar chart referencing why sunscreen is simply not enough. Researchers intended to study the exposure of human skin to ultraviolet radiation (UVR). UVR exposure results in the formation of DNA photolesions which eventually give rise to photoaging, mutations, cell death, and even carcinogenic events. 

However, when a DNA repair enzyme, such as photolyase, is introduced it works to reverse damage caused by that UVR exposure. The intention was to investigate if the addition of photolyase works to enhance the protection of sunscreen. After testing, they found that photolyase with the addition of sunscreen was superior to only using sunscreen alone. 

The major finding (shown below) gives weight to the thinking that photolyase is a helpful addition to your skincare routine. This may make a world of difference as we all work to prevent UVR-induced DNA damage.  


Reference: Berardesca E, Bertona M, Altabas K, Altabas V, Emanuele E. Reduced ultraviolet-induced DNA damage and apoptosis in human skin with topical application of a photolyase-containing DNA repair enzyme cream: clues to skin cancer prevention. Mol Med Rep. 2012 Feb;5(2):570-4. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2011.673. Epub 2011 Nov 11. PMID: 22086236.


The Science Behind Photolyase Activity

Photolyase is a fascinating enzyme that plays a crucial role in repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. When UV light hits our skin cells, it can lead to the formation of harmful lesions known as cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) and 6-4 photoproducts. These lesions can disrupt the normal functioning of our DNA and increase the risk of mutations and skin cancer.

Enter photolyase, the superhero enzyme that swoops in to save the day. Photolyase uses a process called photoreactivation to repair these UV-induced DNA lesions. This process involves absorbing light in the visible spectrum, usually blue or green light, and using that energy to split the bonds in the CPDs and 6-4 photoproducts, effectively reversing the damage and restoring the integrity of the DNA.

But how exactly does photolyase pull off this impressive feat? The enzyme contains a special cofactor called flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD), which acts as a light-absorbing chromophore. When FAD absorbs a photon of light, it becomes excited and transfers energy to the lesion in the DNA, causing it to undergo a photoreaction that breaks the bond holding the DNA strands together. This allows the enzyme to access the damaged site and catalyze the repair process.

Research into photolyase and its mechanisms of action is still ongoing, but scientists are continually uncovering new insights into how this enzyme works its magic at the molecular level. By understanding the science behind photolyase activity, we can appreciate the intricate mechanisms that our cells have evolved to protect us from the damaging effects of UV radiation.


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How Photolyase Fights Against UV Damage

Photolyase is a remarkable enzyme that serves as a key player in repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When UV light hits our skin, it can lead to the formation of thymine dimers, where two adjacent thymine bases in the DNA strand bond together, disrupting normal DNA structure and function.

This is where photolyase steps in to save the day. Photolyase has the unique ability to detect these thymine dimers and effectively repair them, restoring the DNA strand to its original state. The process involves absorbing light in the blue or near-ultraviolet spectrum, which activates the enzyme and allows it to bind to the damaged DNA, break the bonds between the thymine bases, and facilitate their separation and repair.

Through this mechanism, photolyase acts as a natural sunscreen for our DNA, protecting it from the harmful effects of UV radiation. By swiftly repairing thymine dimers, photolyase helps to prevent mutations that could lead to skin cancer and other health issues.

One of the fascinating aspects of photolyase is its evolutionary significance. While humans do not naturally produce photolyase, many organisms, such as plants, insects, and some bacteria, have this enzyme as part of their DNA repair toolkit. This underscores the importance of photolyase in maintaining genetic integrity and ensuring the survival of various species in the face of constant UV exposure.

Incorporating photolyase-based products into skincare routines and other applications can offer added protection against UV-induced DNA damage, helping to safeguard our genetic material and promote overall health and well-being.


Target Damage At The Source 

While you’ve heard that sunscreen is the base for all, at Photozyme we’re interested in telling you why sunscreen is not enough. Thanks to leading dermatologists, Dr. Zoe Draelos and Dr. Flor Mayoral, Photozyme and its DNA repair enzymes are considered to be FUNDAMENTAL pillars of a healthy skincare regimen. Along with sunscreen and antioxidants, DNA repair enzymes make up the foundation for overall skin health.  

  • Without the protection and repair products which make up the fundamental base of the pyramid, the transform and optimize products will not be able to do their jobs properly.
  • DNA repair enzymes such as Photolyase, a key ingredient in Photozyme products, are imperative to prevent damage. 


Target Damage At The Source


Benefits Of Photolyase For Skin Care

Photolyase, a vital enzyme found in all living organisms, plays a crucial role in repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to harmful UV radiation. When applied topically in skincare products, photolyase can offer a wide range of benefits for the skin.

  1. Repairs Sun Damage: One of the primary benefits of photolyase in skincare is its ability to repair sun-induced DNA damage. By stimulating the repair of UV-induced lesions, photolyase can help mitigate the effects of sun exposure on the skin, such as premature aging, sunspots, and other signs of photodamage.
  2. Anti-Aging Properties: Photolyase can also help in combating the signs of aging by repairing DNA damage that contributes to the formation of wrinkles, fine lines, and loss of elasticity. By promoting DNA repair, photolyase can aid in maintaining a youthful and radiant complexion.
  3. Prevents Hyperpigmentation: Exposure to UV radiation can lead to an increase in melanin production, resulting in hyperpigmentation and dark spots on the skin. Photolyase can help prevent and lighten these dark spots by repairing UV-induced DNA damage and regulating melanin production.
  4. Supports Skin Barrier Function: Photolyase aids in the repair of DNA damage not only in the skin cells but also in the skin's protective barrier. By maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier, photolyase can help improve skin hydration, reduce sensitivity, and enhance the overall health of the skin.
  5. Enhances Skin Repair and Regeneration: By facilitating DNA repair processes, photolyase can support skin repair and regeneration, leading to healthier, more resilient skin. This can help in faster healing of wounds, reduction in inflammation, and overall improvement in skin tone and texture.


Comparing Photolyase With Other DNA Repair Enzymes

Photolyase is a unique DNA repair enzyme that specializes in correcting DNA damage specifically caused by ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, such as cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) and 6-4 photoproducts. Unlike nucleotide excision repair (NER) enzymes that remove a broader range of DNA lesions by excising a segment of the damaged strand and base excision repair (BER) enzymes that replace individual damaged nucleotides, photolyase uses light energy to directly reverse the bonds between the damaged bases. This direct reversal mechanism allows photolyase to efficiently and accurately repair UV-induced DNA lesions.

While NER and BER enzymes are critical for maintaining genome integrity by repairing various types of DNA damage, photolyase excels in its ability to quickly address UV-induced lesions, preventing mutations that could compromise genetic material. The efficiency of photolyase in specifically targeting and repairing UV-related damage highlights its crucial role in protecting cells from the mutagenic effects of sunlight, particularly in organisms directly exposed to solar radiation.

Each DNA repair enzyme, including photolyase, plays a specialized role in a comprehensive network of mechanisms that ensure cellular survival and proper function under genotoxic stress. Together, these enzymes help maintain the stability of the genome and shield cells from a wide array of DNA damage, underscoring the essential nature of these repair systems in biological health and disease prevention.


Two Enzymes That Repair UV Damage To DNA

When it comes to repairing UV damage to DNA, two key enzymes play a crucial role: photolyase and nucleotide excision repair (NER) enzymes.

Photolyase: Photolyase is a class of enzymes that are capable of repairing UV-induced DNA damage specifically caused by the formation of pyrimidine dimers, which are disruptions in the normal bonding between certain nucleotide bases in DNA strands. These dimers are commonly formed when DNA is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as sunlight. What sets photolyase apart is its ability to utilize light energy to break the bonds between the pyrimidine dimers, resulting in the restoration of the DNA to its original undamaged state. This process, known as photoreactivation, is highly efficient and specific to UV-induced DNA damage repair.

NER enzymes: Nucleotide excision repair enzymes, on the other hand, are responsible for recognizing and removing a wider range of DNA lesions, including those induced by UV radiation. Unlike photolyase, NER enzymes do not rely on light energy for their repair mechanism. Instead, they work by detecting distortions in the DNA helix caused by the presence of UV-induced lesions, cutting out the damaged DNA segment, and replacing it with the correct nucleotides through a series of intricate molecular steps. This process ensures the accurate restoration of the DNA sequence, maintaining the integrity and functionality of the genetic information stored within the DNA molecule.

Overall, these two enzymes, photolyase and NER enzymes, play complementary roles in safeguarding the genetic integrity of cells by efficiently repairing UV damage to DNA and minimizing the risk of mutations that can lead to various health issues.

Additional Reading: 

Frequently Asked Questions on Photolyase


What is photolyase?

Photolyase is an enzyme that plays a crucial role in repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. It works by absorbing light in the visible spectrum and using this energy to cleave the cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) formed between adjacent pyrimidine bases in DNA, thus directly reverting the DNA to its original state without the need for excision or replacement of DNA segments.


How does photolyase repair DNA?

Photolyase repairs DNA by binding to the damaged site where CPDs have formed. Once bound, the enzyme absorbs visible light and uses this energy to drive the cleavage of the CPD bonds, effectively reversing the damage and restoring the DNA to its original structure. This process is highly specific and efficient, requiring light as a source of energy.


What are the types of photolyase?

There are mainly two types of photolyase: (1) Cyclobutane Pyrimidine Dimer (CPD) photolyases, which repair CPD lesions; and (2) (6-4) photolyases, which target and repair (6-4) photoproducts. These two types of lesions are the most common forms of UV-induced DNA damage.


Where is photolyase found?

Photolyase is found in a wide range of organisms including bacteria, fungi, plants, and some animals. It is especially prevalent in organisms exposed to high levels of sunlight, where DNA damage from UV light is more common. However, it is notably absent in most mammals, including humans.


Why is photolyase important?

Photolyase is important because it plays a vital role in protecting organisms from the harmful effects of UV radiation. By repairing DNA damage efficiently, it prevents mutations that could lead to cell death or cancer. Its ability to directly reverse DNA damage also helps maintain genomic integrity and stability.


Does human DNA have photolyase?

Human DNA does not have photolyase. Humans, and most other mammals, rely on other mechanisms, such as nucleotide excision repair, to manage and repair UV-induced DNA damage. As such, humans do not have the direct, light-driven repair mechanism that photolyase offers.


How was photolyase discovered?

Photolyase was discovered in the mid-20th century through studies investigating the recovery of UV-irradiated bacteria in visible light, a phenomenon known as photoreactivation. Subsequent research isolated the enzyme responsible for this repair process, leading to the identification of photolyase.


What is the difference between photolyase and DNA ligase?

Photolyase and DNA ligase are enzymes involved in DNA repair but work in fundamentally different ways. Photolyase directly reverses UV-induced DNA damage using light energy, without cutting the DNA strand. DNA ligase, on the other hand, repairs breaks in the DNA strand by joining the ends together, a crucial step in various DNA repair and replication processes.


Can photolyase repair all types of DNA damage?

No, photolyase cannot repair all types of DNA damage. It is highly specific for repairing cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers and, in some cases, (6-4) photoproducts, which are specific types of damage caused by UV light. Other forms of DNA damage, such as single-strand breaks, double-strand breaks, or chemical modifications, require different repair mechanisms.


What is the role of light in photolyase function?

Light plays a critical role in photolyase function by providing the energy needed to reverse UV-induced DNA damage. Photolyase binds to the damaged DNA and absorbs visible light, which it converts into the chemical energy required to cleave the bonds of the CPD, directly reversing the damage. This process is known as photoreactivation and is dependent on light to activate the photolyase enzyme.


  1. Berardesca E, Bertona M, Altabas K, Altabas V, Emanuele E. Reduced ultraviolet-induced DNA damage and apoptosis in human skin with topical application of a photolyase-containing DNA repair enzyme cream: clues to skin cancer prevention. Mol Med Rep. 2012 Feb;5(2):570-4. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2011.673. Epub 2011 Nov 11. PMID: 22086236.
  2. Spencer JM, Morgan MB, Trapp KM, Moon SD. Topical formulation engendered alteration in p53 and cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer expression in chronic photodamaged patients. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013 Mar;12(3):336-40. PMID: 23545918.
  3. Carducci M, Pavone PS, De Marco G, Lovati S, Altabas V, Altabas K, Emanuele E. Comparative Effects of Sunscreens Alone vs Sunscreens Plus DNA Repair Enzymes in Patients With Actinic Keratosis: Clinical and Molecular Findings from a 6-Month, Randomized, Clinical Study. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Sep;14(9):986-90. PMID: 26355618.
  4. Mayoral FA, Kenner JR, Draelos ZD. The skin health and beauty pyramid: a clinically based guide to selecting topical skincare products. J Drugs Dermatol. 2014 Apr;13(4):414-21. PMID: 24719060.

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