Oliver Griesbeck of the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology has been working on genetically encoded indicators of calcium and other small molecules since the very beginnings of the field. Those engineered sensors were designed to replace synthetic calcium dyes, which had been in use since the 1980s.
“Synthetic dyes were the standard in the field, but there is one problem: how to get that into the cells of interest,” Griesbeck said. Because they are chemical compounds, they have to be applied or injected, and they don’t always end up where you want them to go.
Griesbeck is motivated by a particular interest in monitoring the activity and biochemistry of living neurons in an effort to understand the connection between molecular- and cellular-level events and behavior. It’s a problem that he considers “one of the greatest challenges of neuroscience.”