Skip to main content
Neurophotonics Centre logo



at the interface of physics & neuroscience

Optogenetic protein engineering facility

Calcium Imaging - Campbell lab

Facility Leader: Robert E. Campbell, PhD, University of Alberta 

Research Coordinator: Dr. Eason Shen

Campbell lab website at U Alberta

Campbell lab website at U Tokyo

Addgene | Robert Campbell

Optogenetic proteins are light-responsive tools that neuroscientists use to better understand  how the brain and nervous system work. 
Optogenetic tools include:

  • Reporters and indicators – proteins that fluoresce in target locations or in response to physical and biochemical changes within live cells, that can be used to visualize and follow processes occurring in living tissue.
  • Actuators – which undergo shape and function changes in response to light, and can be used to activate or block cell functions in a highly controlled fashion. 
  • Integrators – which allow researchers to view activation of whole networks

Light can thereby be used to detect, measure, and control signals and cells in the nervous system in order to understand their activity and the effects of modifying this activity.

Many of these fluorescent and light-responsive proteins naturally occur in coral, jellyfish and other marine animals.  The proteins found in such animals must be modified using molecular biology, protein engineering and other modification techniques to convert them into useful optogenetic tools.

Robert Campbell’s laboratory, which is the core of the optogenetic protein engineering facility, invents novel optogenetic tools that respond to different colors of light, but also to variations in the levels of different chemical, such as calcium and neurotransmitters and of physical properties, such as pH and voltage.

Once these tools are developed, optimizing them for use in the nervous system of live animals is challenging, because tools that work well in cultured cells often  perform progressively worse in dissociated neurons, tissue slices, and in live animals.
The protein engineering facility, by working together with the other production  and testing nodes of the platform will be able to optimize  the tools it will produce for use in neuroscience research.

The mission of the optogenetic engineering facility is to make custom-designed genetically-encoded tools that are optimized for end-user applications.

Some of the proteins developed by the Optogenetic protein engineering facility can be found in these databases:

Fluorescent Biosensor Database at UCSD