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Optogenetics and Protein Engineering Laboratory

Generation of protein-based tools for neuroscientific and biological research

The goal of the laboratory is to develop novel biochemical and chemical biochemical tools to study fundamental neuroscience questions. These tools can be used by biologists to understand how cellular events lead to behavioural effects in neuroscience, and detect the cellular events that occur during the performance of a behaviour. The laboratory utilises a multi-discipline approach to tackle these scientific questions and we utilise protein-engineering, physiological, optical, molecular biological, chemical and biochemical techniques to develop and assay the tools.

Image: Left - Crystal structure of LOV domain protein and Green fluorescent protein (GFP); Middle - Image of cultured neuron; Right - Images of nematode (C. elegans; top), fruit fly (D. melanogaster; middle) and a laboratory mouse (below).

Credits: Dr H. Inagaki & Dr D. Anderson, Caltech (fruit fly image); Dr P Knutsen & Dr D. Kleinfeld, UCSD (lab mouse image).

Research Areas

  • Protein-based actuators for neuroscientific research
  • Starting with the works conducted within Professor Roger Tsien's laboratory at University of California,  San Diego, we have made substantial improvements in existing variants of Channelrhodopsins (ChRs) and developed a novel optogenetic approach to inhibit synaptic release (InSynC). The goals of the current laboratory is to generate more useful tools for neuroscientific and biological researches. Currently we are working with new optogenetic technologies to manipulate intracellular signalling cascade and synaptic plasticity in neurons. When activated with light, we would like to be able to alter the intracellular signalling cascade or synaptic plasticity at a defined temporal window that would enable the manipulation of behaviour in model laboratory organisms. These tools would enable the investigation the neuroscientific question of 'causality' - how is the activities of an individual cell or a particular circuitry lead to the change in behaviour.

  • Protein-based sensors for neuroscientific research
  • The works on fluorescent proteins has proved to be an essential part of biological and chemical sciences. These tools have enable us to observe the dynamics of intracellular activities in real-time with high spatial resolution. We are currently undertaking further work to develop fluorescent protein-based sensors that would permit the detection of cellular and synaptic activities. The current focus on the development of sensors for based on the far-red fluorescent protein smURFP that we developed with Dr. Erik Rodriguez

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Research theme areas:

  • Neurosciences and Cognition