UCL Division of Biosciences


Light-Activated Proteins

Here, we look at a group of proteins that have revolutionised the study of the Biosciences and that offer huge potential to help humanity. Light-responsive proteins are allowing scientists to turn brain neurons on and off selectively and with great precision. The hope is that this method could treat neurological disorders and also offer the possibility to restore vision and hearing loss.

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Light Activated Proteins in Detail  

by Stephen Price, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology, UCL

About Stephen Price

image Stephen Price

I was born in Liverpool and brought up in Chester in the North West of England. I attended a local comprehensive school and then got a place to study at Cambridge University. There, I read Natural Sciences specialising in Chemistry in my final year and then studied for my PhD at the world-famous MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (where the double helix structure of DNA was first proposed).  My PhD was concerned with the specificity of interaction between proteins of the spliceosome and spliceosomal RNAs. I solved this problem by studying the X-ray structure of a complex of two proteins bound to a short fragment of RNA, one of the first ever protein-RNA ternary complex structures.  From Cambridge, I moved to Columbia University in New York as a postdoctoral fellow to work with Professor Thomas Jessell on the development of the Nervous System.  At Columbia, I studied the mechanisms that drive specificity in cell to cell interaction of motor neurons in the spinal cord. This main theme of my research has driven my interests with my own group at UCL. The Price lab is pretty small, with fewer than five members and each person has their own defined project related to specificity of cell communication in the brainstem and spinal cord.

I am also the Associate Director (Education) for the Division of Biosciences. The Division of Biosciences is one of the largest academic departments at UCL with over 170 research groups providing education to over 1600 undergraduate students, 120 Masters students and over 300 PhD students.

As Associate Director, I am responsible to the Director of Division for all education activities, including strategic oversight of their provision and the student experience. I also lecture and lead small group teaching sessions at PhD, Masters- and Undergraduate-level. I teach developmental biology and histology from the first year onwards, including to medical students.

In addition to my interests in research in developmental biology, I am also keen to explore how students learn. To that end, I am also engaged in research into teaching - particularly how students learn molecular biosciences and how we can make this learning more efficient!


First, read this overview of light-activated proteins before viewing my talk below


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Further Reading


The following publications will increase your understanding of light-activated proteins. 


Key Words


Green fluorescent protein.  Amazingly useful in scientific research because it allows us to look directly into the inner working of cells.


Enhance GFP is a GFP mutant with brighter fluorescence and a  higher sensitivity for detection and also allows real-time analysis. 

DNA Promoters

A DNA promoter is a sequence of DNA needed to turn a gene on or off.  Therefore, a promoter controls the binding of RNA polymerase to DNA which in turn creates the protein.  

Laser Ablasion

A  procedure used to destroy abnormal tissue


A subfamily of rhodopsin proteins.  They serve as light-activated ion channels that are widely used in optogenetics.