Yongku Cho

Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies


Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison (2010)

Current Research

  • Protein Engineering
  • Optogenetics
  • Neuroimaging
  • Molecular Neurobiology

Professional Activities

Member: American Institute of Chemical Engineers
Member: Society for Neuroscience
Member: American Society for Photobiology

Research Statement

Dr. Cho’s research group aims to develop technologies to control and observe biological processes, with the ultimate goal of understanding the function of proteins in complex neural circuits and identifying the root cause of brain disorders.  His research group is particularly interested in engineering light-activated proteins to develop optogenetic tools, and engineering specific binding proteins to detect protein localization and function.  Currently, the group is working on the following areas:

Engineering Light-activated Proteins

Light-activated proteins, commonly found in plants and algae, allow these organisms to sense light and use its energy.  These proteins can be repurposed as powerful tools to control specific biological processes in mammalian cells.  This strategy, commonly referred to as optogenetics, is particularly powerful in deciphering the role of targeted neural cells within their complex native environment.  A major bottleneck in developing and improving optogenetic tools is the lack of an adaptable platform for engineering light-activated proteins.  In order to optimize these proteins as tools, multiple parameters that dictate their performance need to be improved.  To address this challenge, Dr. Cho’s group is leveraging the power of automated microscopy to enable multi-parametric screen of light-activated proteins.

Engineering Binding Proteins for Neural Imaging and Modulation

The development of advanced imaging capabilities such as super-resolution microscopy combined with molecular labeling methods allows the visualization of complex structures such as the synapse that are critical for understanding neural function. These technologies have the potential to pinpoint the location of proteins in fine neuronal structures and reveal the changes occurring in these structures under diseased state.  Dr. Cho’s group is interested in screening binding proteins for key neural target proteins and coupling novel functionality to these binding proteins for studying target protein function.

Previous Positions

2010-2013 Postdoctoral Associate, Synthetic Neurobiology Group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2004-2010 Graduate Research Assistant, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Awards & Honors

2014 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant
2007-2010 NIH Genomic Sciences Training Program Fellow
2007 Roland A. Ragatz Teaching Assistant Award
2006-2007 Polygon Engineering Council Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award
2004-2007 Gold Medal in Biochemical Engineering Competition sponsored by the Korean Institute of Chemical Engineers (KIChE)
2004-2006 Samsung Scholarship

Recent Publications

Cho, Y.K.*, Genetically Encoded Tools: Bridging the Gap between Neuronal Identity and Function, ACS Chemical Neuroscience, in press, published online DOI: 10.1021/acschemneuro.5b00008.

Schmidt, D.*, Cho, Y.K.*, Natural photoreceptors and their application to synthetic biology, Trends in Biotechnology, in press, published online DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tibtech.2014.10.007.

Hochbaum, D.R., Zhao, Y., Farhi, S., Klapoetke, N.C., Werley, C.A., Kapoor, V., Zou, P., Kralj, J.M., Maclaurin, D., Smedemark-Margulies, N., Saulnier, J., Boulting, G.L., Cho, Y.K., Melkonian, M., Wong, G.K., Harrison, D.J., Murthy, V., Sabatini, B., Campbell, R.E., Boyden, E.S., Cohen, A.E., Engineered microbial rhodopsins for all optical electrophysiology in mammalian neurons, Nature Methods, 11, 825-833 (2014).

Klapoetke, N.C., Murata, Y., Kim, S.S., Pulver, S.R., Birdsey-Benson, A., Cho, Y.K., Morimoto, T.K., Chuong, A.S., Chow, B.Y., Surek, B., Melkonian, M., Jayaraman, V., Constantine-Paton, M., Wong, G.K., Boyden, E.S., Independent optical excitation of distinct neural populations, Nature Methods, 11, 338-346 (2014).

Tillotson, B.T., Cho, Y.K., Shusta, E.V. Cells and cell lysates: A direct approach for engineering antibodies against membrane proteins using yeast surface display, Methods, 60, 27-37 (2013).

Cho, Y. K., Shusta, E. V. Antibody library screens using detergent-solubilized mammalian cell lysates as antigen sources, Protein Eng. Des. Sel., 23, 567-77 (2010).

Pavoor, T., Cho, Y. K., Shusta, E. V. Development of GFP-based biosensors possessing the binding properties of antibodies, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 106, 11895-11900 (2009).

Cho, Y. K., Chen, I., Wei, X., Li, L., Shusta, E. V. A yeast display immunoprecipitation method for efficient isolation and characterization of antigens, J.Immunol. Methods, 341, 117-26 (2009).

Pepper L. R.†, Cho, Y. K.†, Boder, E. T., Shusta, E. V. A decade of yeast surface display technology: where are we now? Comb. Chem. High Throughput Screen., 11, 127-34 (2008).

Wang, X. X., Cho, Y. K., Shusta, E. V. Mining a yeast library for brain endothelial cell-binding antibodies. Nat. Methods 4, 143-5 (2007).

Contact Information
Phone(860) 486-4072
Mailing Address191 Auditorium Road, Unit 3222, Storrs, CT 06269-3222
Office LocationUTEB-278