Engineering cellular biology, minus the actual cell, is a growing area of interest in biotechnology and synthetic biology. It’s known as cell-free protein synthesis, or CFPS, and it has potential to provide sustainable ways to make chemicals, medicines and biomaterials.
Unfortunately, a long-standing gap in cell-free systems is the ability to manufacture glycosylated proteins – proteins with a carbohydrate attachment. Glycosylation is crucial for a wide range of important biological processes, and the ability to understand and control this mechanism is vital for disease treatment and prevention.
Matthew DeLisa, the William L. Lewis Professor of Engineering in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Michael Jewett, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University, have teamed up on a novel approach that bridges this gap. Their system, the first of its kind, capitalizes on the recent advances in CFPS while adding the crucial glycosylation component in a simplified, “one-pot” reaction. In the future, their cell-free glycoprotein synthesis system could be freeze-dried and reactivated for point-of-use protein synthesis by simply adding water.
DeLisa and Jewett are co-senior authors of “Single-pot Glycoprotein Biosynthesis Using a Cell-Free Transcription-Translation System Enriched with Glycosylation Machinery,” published July 12 in Nature Communications.
Thapakorn Jaroentomeechai, Ph.D. student in the DeLisa Research Group, and Jessica Stark ’12, Ph.D. student in the Jewett group, are co-first authors.
“If you really want to have a useful, portable and deployable vaccine or therapeutic protein technology that’s cell free, you have to figure out the carbohydrate attachment,” DeLisa said. “That’s, in essence, what we’ve done in a very powerful way.”
This work could impact development of decentralized manufacturing strategies. Rapid access to protein-based medicines in remote settings could change lives; new biomanufacturing paradigms suitable for use in low-resource settings might promote better access to costly drugs through local, small-batch production.
Read more at Cornell Chronicle