Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry & Biochemistry

First Advisor

Ralph Jimenez

Second Advisor

Amy E. Palmer

Third Advisor

Thomas T. Perkins

Fourth Advisor

Arthur Pardi

Fifth Advisor

Loren E. Hough


The discovery of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) launched the development of a wide variety of fluorescent protein (FP) mutants whose spectral and photophysical diversity revolutionized in vivo imaging. The excitation and emission spectra of red fluorescent proteins (RFPs), in particular, have been ideally tuned to a window optically favorable for in vivo work. However, their quantum yields, photostabilities and fluorescence intermittency properties require improvement if they are to be broadly employed for low-copy or single-molecule measurements. Attempts to engineer improved RFPs often result in optimization of one photophysical property at the expense of others. We developed a microfluidic-based cytometer for screening HeLa cell-based genetic RFP-libraries simultaneously on the basis of fluorescence lifetime (a proxy for quantum yield), photostability, and brightness. Ten 532 nm excitation beams interrogate each cell in flow. The first is electro-optically modulated (30 MHz) to enable lifetime measurement with phase fluorimetry. The remaining beams act as a pulse sequence for isolating the irreversible photobleaching time constant. Optical-force switching is employed to sort cells based on any combination of the photophysical parameters. Screening with this instrument enables identification of regions of the structure that synergistically affect quantum yield and photostability and the sorting capability provides a new tool for accelerating the development of next generation RFPs.