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at the interface of physics & neuroscience

COVF – Protein Engineering core

Optogenetic Molecular Tools

Optogenetic molecular tools are light-responsive proteins that enable the manipulation and visualization of the intricate network of neuronal activities with precise spatiotemporal resolution. Optogenetic actuator proteins are used to activate or inhibit certain cell functions in response to light, while optogenetic indicator proteins change their fluorescent signal output in response to biochemical changes within live cells. Protein engineering is a key technique to convert naturally occurring fluorescent and other light-responsive proteins into useful optogenetic molecular tools for basic neuroscience research and translational therapeutic applications.

Optogenetic indicators - Calcium, voltage, transmitter releaseProtein Engineering Core

The Campbell laboratory at the University of Alberta is at the origin of the Protein Engineering Core of the Canadian Optogenetics and Vectorology Foundry. The laboratory has migrated to the CERVO Brain Research Centre under the form of the CERVO Optogenetic Tool Production Platform (Plateforme de Production d’Outils Optogénétique du Centre CERVO – PPOOCC) and is fully operational. The PPOOCC leverages our knowledge, expertise, and experience in protein engineering, to design and develop novel optogenetic tools with highly optimized performance. We also work closely with a Canada-wide community of neuroscience researchers to test, characterize, and evaluate the optogenetic molecular tools in the development pipeline.

Projects in development

Our diverse project portfolio includes:

Fluorescent proteins

  • Optogenetic indicator proteins for neuronal activities including Ca2+ entry, membrane voltage change, and synaptic transmission.
  • Optogenetic indicator proteins for metabolites and cellular metabolic status.
  • Optogenetic indicator proteins with red and near-infrared fluorescence.
  • Optogenetic activator proteins to control cellular function by light-induced protein cleavage.
  • Optogenetic actuator proteins for controlling cellular functions via light-induced protein cleavage.

Open Science

We are strong believers in open and collaborative science. All the DNA plasmid reagents developed from the Protein Engineering Core will be available through the nonprofit plasmid repository Addgene Addgene: Robert Campbell Lab Plasmids.

The Protein Engineering Core vertically integrates with the Molecular Tools Platform of the Canadian Optogenetics and Vectorology Foundry, hence all viral vectors encoding our optogenetics tools will be available through the molecular tools platform Canadian Neurophotonics Platform – Viral Vector Core.

We strive to provide an inclusive and synergistic platform for all forms of collaborations and promote two-way education in the community of tool developers and end-users. If you wish to test new optogenetic tools or have any related questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at or

Our Mission

The mission of the Protein Engineering Core is to craft custom-designed, high-performance, and well-characterized optogenetic tools that are optimized for end-user applications, and make these tools widely available for the worldwide research community to catalyze advances in neuroscience research and therapeutic development.