Protein Engineering & Computational Protein Design

The Chica Lab specializes in the development of novel proteins with useful properties for their application in chemistry and biology. In particular, we are interested in developing new biocatalysts for asymmetric synthesis of unatural amino acids as well as genetically-encoded biosensors based on fluorescent proteins for in vivo imaging applications. To achieve these goals, we develop and exploit state-of-the-art multistate computational protein design methods to help predict mutations that will lead to the desired protein property. More information on our current research projects can be found in the Research section.

Latest Results

We recently used rational design to increase the quantum yield and brightness of red fluorescent proteins (RFPs) by rigidifying their chromophore via the creation of a triple-decker motif of aromatic rings (see figure below). The best mutant identified displayed an over three-fold improvement relative to the parent RFP and was isolated following the screening of only 48 mutants, a library size that is several orders of magnitude smaller than those previously used to achieve equivalent gains in quantum yield in other RFPs. This study was published in ACS Chemical Biology, and can be found here.


Research Funding

We gratefully acknowledge support from the following agencies:



Protein Engineering, Computational Protein Design, Multistate Design, Enzymes, Biocatalysis, Fluorescent Proteins, Molecular Modeling, Protein Science, High-Performance Computing, Biological Chemistry, Protein Dynamics


Contact info

Roberto Chica, Ph. D.
Associate Professor
Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences
University of Ottawa
10 Marie Curie
Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5

(613) 562-5800 x 1988
rchica at uottawa dot ca