Ai Lab

Laboratory of Protein Engineering for Bioactivity Imaging

The Ai laboratory uses interdisciplinary approaches in chemistry, engineering, biophysics, and physiology to study and manipulate complex biological systems, with a focus on the development of novel molecular biosensors to peer into cells and organisms to understand biosignaling and communications.

We use a collection of technologies, such as protein engineering, fluorescence imaging, bioluminescence imaging, synthetic chemistry, electrophysiology, and MRI to dissect biological pathways related to metabolism, redox biology, insulin receptor signaling, and neurotransmission.

Our immediate goal is to monitor biological signaling in real time with excellent spatial resolution and molecular precision in physiologically relevant environments. Our long-term goal is to apply these new probes to live cells and rodent models to understand communications relevant to diabetes, cancer development and progression, cognition and behavior, and neurological disorders.

addgene: the nonprofit plasmid repository


We are currently working with Addgene a nonprofit plasmid repository, to deposit frequently requested plasmids. Also see "Practical Notes for teLuc-DTZ and Antares2-DTZ".
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Molecular tools to generate reactive oxygen species in biological systems

This paper provides a concise review of current molecular tools that can generate ROS in biological systems via either non-genetic or genetically-encoded way. Challenges and perspectives are further discussed with the hope of broadening the applications of ROS generators in research and clinical settings.
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ATP-independent bioluminescent reporter variants to improve in vivo imaging

We engineered a LumiLuc luciferase which generates highly bright blue, teal, or yellow bioluminescence. We further fused LumiLuc to a red fluorescent protein, resulting in a LumiScarlet reporter with further red-shifted emission and enhanced tissue penetration. This paper was one of the top 20 most downloaded in ACS Chem Biol for the month of April 2019.
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Tianchen, Ying, and Yu became PhD candidates

Recently, Tianchen (Biophysics), Ying (Biophysics), and Yu (Chemistry) all passed their oral exams and became PhD candidates in their respective graduate programs. Congratulations!

Ai named Charter Member of NIH Study Section

Dr. Ai has been appointed by NIH as a charter member of the Imaging Guided Interventions and Surgery – IGIS study section. Dr. Ai will hold the position four years, attending…

Lab Location

Pinn Hall - Rm. 4013-4020, 1340 Jefferson Park Avenue, Charlottesville, VA 22908