Recently, a research team based in the North-Western University has unfolded a new process for protein manufacturing outside a cell, signaling significant implications in therapeutics and biomaterials. Besides promoting better access to costly drugs all over the world, such an advance could make decentralized distribution and manufacturing processes for protein therapeutics possible.
In an attempt to improve the quality of manufactured proteins, the team developed a bacterial cell-free protein synthesis system that is capable of high-level expression of pure proteins containing multiple non-canonical amino acids. This is important because it allows bio-manufacturers to expand the range of genetically encoded chemistry incorporated into proteins in previously unattainable ways.
Conventionally, large centralized manufacturing facilities have been used for protein production in living cells. On the other hand, cell-free protein synthesis can simply take a cell, rip away its cell wall and collects the guts of the cell. The extracted material is then used to generate proteins without a living organism. Not having the need of keeping the cell alive opens up several possibilities such as synthesizing new classes of enzymes, materials, chemicals, and therapeutics, with diverse chemistry.
This breakthrough in protein synthesis can be credited to two elements. The first credit goes to the idea of using a genomically recoded organism of Escherichia coli bacteria that lacked Release Factor 1. The second element is the innovative strategy devised by one of the students to find genes in the chromosome of that organism that were thought to affect the ability to produce protein negatively and inactivated them to enable higher cell-free protein synthesis yields.
This platform is already being used in so many other project areas in the lab due to its potential to open up entirely new areas of materials chemistry research for biotechnology and, additionally, could uncover new paradigms of on-demand bio-manufacturing of therapeutics and vaccines.