Prof. Dr. Kai Johnsson

Kai Johnsson

Max-Planck-Institut für medizinische Forschung
Jahnstraße 29
69120 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 (6221) 486-400

Position and Status

Professor EPFL
Director at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Department of Chemical Biology

Scholarships and awards

2016 - Karl-Heinz-Beckurts-Preis
2015 - AbbVie Lecture, UC Berkeley
2013 - Elected Member of EMBO
2012 - 2013 -  Novartis Lectureship Award
2012 - Leica Scientific Forum Lectureship Japan (Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo)
2011 -  Amgen Lecture, UC Berkeley
2003 - Prix APLE for the invention of the year 2003 of EPFL Lausanne

University training and degree

1988 - Diploma in Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, ETH Zürich, Switzerland


Advanced academic qualifications

1992 - PhD in Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, ETH Zürich, Switzerland


Postgraduate professional career

2017 - Director, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg, Germany
2009 - Full Professor; Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, Institute of Bioengineering, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland
2005 - 2009 - Associate Professor; Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, Institute of Bioengineering, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland
1999 - 2005 - Assistant Professor; Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland
1996 - 1999 - Independent researcher; Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany
1993 - 1996 - Postdoctoral fellow; Department of Chemistry, UC Berkeley, USA

Coordinating functions and editorial work

2014 - Scientific Advisory Board, Quartet Medicines, Boston, USA
2012 - Editorial Advisory Board of Science
2012 - Member of the school-wide tenure committee of EPFL
2010 - Editorial Board of Chemical Society Reviews
2010 - Co-Director of the Swiss-wide research program NCCR Chemical Biology (budget of SFR 4 million per year)
2009 - Member of the steering committee of Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, EPFL
2008 - Editorial Board of ChemBioChem
2006 - Editorial Board of Chemistry&Biology
2005 - Associate Editor of ACS Chemical Biology
2003 - 2010 - Board of Directors, Covalys Biosciences, Switzerland

Most important publications

  1. Yu, Q.; Xue, L.; Hiblot, J.; Griss, R.; Fabritz, S.; Roux, C.; Binz, P. A.; Haas, D.; Okun, J. G.; Johnsson, K. (2018) Semisynthetic sensor proteins enable metabolic assays at the point of care. Science, 361, 1122-1126

  2. Sallin, O.; Reymond, L.; Gondrand, C.; Raith, F.; Koch, B.; Johnsson, K. (2018) Semisynthetic biosensors for mapping cellular concentrations of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotides. eLife, 7

  3. Lukinavicius, G.; Reymond, L.; D'Este, E.; Masharina, A.; Gottfert, F.; Ta, H.; Guther, A.; Fournier, M.; Rizzo, S.; Waldmann, H.; Blaukopf, C.; Sommer, C.; Gerlich, D. W.; Arndt, H. D.; Hell, S. W.; Johnsson, K. (2014) Fluorogenic probes for live-cell imaging of the cytoskeleton. Nature Methods, 11, 731

  4. Haruki, H.; Pedersen, M. G.; Gorska, K. I.; Pojer, F.; Johnsson, K. (2013) Tetrahydrobiopterin biosynthesis as an off-target of sulfa drugs. Science, 340, 987

  5. Lukinavicius, G.; Umezawa, K.; Olivier, N.; Honigmann, A.; Yang, G.; Plass, T.; Mueller, V.; Reymond, L.; Correa, I. R., Jr.; Luo, Z. G.; Schultz, C.; Lemke, E. A.; Heppenstall, P.; Eggeling, C.; Manley, S.; Johnsson, K. (2013) A near-infrared fluorophore for live-cell super-resolution microscopy of cellular proteins. Nature Chemistry, 5, 132

  6. Chidley, C.; Haruki, H.; Pedersen, M. G.; Muller, E.; Johnsson, K. (2017) A yeast-based screen reveals that sulfasalazine inhibits tetrahydrobiopterin biosynthesis. Nature Chem Biol, 7, 375

  7. Gautier, A.; Juillerat, A.; Heinis, C.; Correa, I. R.; Kindermann, M.; Beaufils, F.; Johnsson, K. (2008) An engineered protein tag for multiprotein labeling in living cells. Chem&Biol, 15, 128

  8. George, N.; Pick, H.; Vogel, H.; Johnsson, N.; Johnsson, K. (2004) Specific labeling of cell surface proteins with chemically diverse compounds” J Am Chem Soc, 126, 8896

  9. Keppler, A.; Pick, H.; Arrivoli, C.; Vogel, H.; Johnsson, K. (2004) Labeling of fusion proteins with synthetic fluorophores in live cells. P Natl Acad Sci USA, 101, 9955

  10. Keppler, A.; Gendreizig, S.; Gronemeyer, T.; Pick, H.; Vogel, H.; Johnsson, K. (2003) A general method for the covalent labeling of fusion proteins with small molecules in vivo. Nat Biotechnol, 21, 86


  1. “Means and methods for bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (bret) analysis in a biological sample” Kai Johnsson, Alberto Schena, Rudolf Griss (2013) PCT/EP2013/065223;

  2. "Cell permeable, fluorescent dye" Kai Johnsson, Grazvydas Lukinavicius, Keitaro Umezawa, (2011) PCT/EP2011/064750; licensed and exploited by Spirochrome.

  3. “Labelling of fusion proteins with synthetic probes” Gautier, Arnaud; Johnsson, Kai; Kindermann, Maik; Juillerat, Alexandre; Beaufils, Florent, PCT Int. Appl. (2008) WO 2008/012296;

  4. “Methods for cell-free protein display” Florian Hollfelder, Viktor Stein, Andrew Griffiths, Kai Johnsson. UK0714698.9 (2007)

  5. “Mutants of human O6-alkylguanine-DNA alkyltransferase with improved properties”; Barnikov, Jan; Chidley, Christopher; Gronemeyer, Thomas; Heinis, Christian; Jaccard, Hughes; Johnsson, Kai; Juillerat, Alexandre; Keppler, Antje. PCT Int. Appl. (2005), WO 2005085431;

  6. “Method for identification of fragmentation sites in a reporter protein in the development of split protein sensors” Johnsson, Kai; Tafelmeyer, Petra. PCT Int. Appl. (2005), WO 2005038050;

  7. “Labeling of fusion proteins by enzymic incorporation of a coenzyme A derivative into an acyl carrier protein moiety”; Johnsson, Kai; George, Nathalie. PCT Int. Appl. (2004), WO 2004104588;

  8. “Guanine derivatives as substrates for O6-alkylguanine-DNA alkyltransferase and their use in labeling the enzyme and fusion proteins”; Kindermann, Maik; Johnsson, Kai; Bieri, Christoph. PCT Int. Appl. (2004), WO 2004031405;

  9. “O6-alkylguanine-DNA alkyltransferases for efficient labeling of fusion proteins”; Juillerat, Alexandre; Keppler, Antje; Johnsson, Kai; Gronemeier, Thomas; Gendreizig, Susanne; Brecht, Andreas. PCT Int. Appl. (2004), WO 2004031404;

  10. “Methods using O6-alkylguanine-DNA alkyltransferases”; Kiddle, Simon John; Johnsson, Kai; Gendreizig, Susanne; Keppler, Antje. PCT Int. Appl. (2002), WO 2002083937;