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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Spectrally separated fluorophores allow the observation of multiple targets simultaneously inside living cells, leading to a deeper understanding of the molecular interplay that regulates cell function and fate. Chemogenetic systems combining a tag and a synthetic fluorophore provide certain advantages over fluorescent proteins since there is no requirement for chromophore maturation. Here, we present the engineering of a set of spectrally orthogonal fluorogen-activating tags based on the fluorescence-activating and absorption shifting tag (FAST) that are compatible with two-color, live-cell imaging. The resulting tags, greenFAST and redFAST, demonstrate orthogonality not only in their fluorogen recognition capabilities, but also in their one- and two-photon absorption profiles. This pair of orthogonal tags allowed the creation of a two-color cell cycle sensor capable of detecting very short, early cell cycles in zebrafish development and the development of split complementation systems capable of detecting multiple protein–protein interactions by live-cell fluorescence microscopy. The fluorescent chemogenetic reporters greenFAST and redFAST were engineered by protein engineering. They display orthogonal fluorogen recognition and spectral properties allowing efficient multicolor imaging of proteins in live cells and organisms.