Wyss Institute’s cell-free expression system recognized as technology with future potential for the rapid production of challenging therapeutic and industrial proteins
By Benjamin Boettner
(BOSTON) — After calling for a competition for alternative strategies to protein expression, the Bayer LifeHub Boston awarded the first place prize to Wyss Institute Research Scientist Daniel Wiegand, who as part of Core Faculty George Church’s team has been developing low-cost and high-throughput techniques for cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) using a non-standard bacterial organism.
Many proteins with potential pharmaceutical or industrial value are difficult to express in vivo, limiting the ability for researchers to quickly evaluate their structure and function in a cost-efficient manner. To overcome this limitation, Wiegand and his co-workers Nili Ostrov, Ph.D., and Henry Lee, Ph.D., designed a highly accessible and inexpensive method for rapid protein production using a cell-free expression system derived from the fast-growing marine bacterium Vibrio natriegens, as demonstrated in a 2018 publication.
Because the V. natriegens cell-free expression system circumvents the use of living cells, it could be particularly useful, for example, to researchers interested in proteins that would normally display toxicity toward the cell. Additionally, reagents that stabilize complex proteins or aid in folding them properly can be directly added to the cell-free reactions where they can directly act on the expressed proteins.
The advantages of the V. natriegens cell-free expression system could also make it a tool for synthetic biologists who, through multiple iterations of the design-build-test cycle, aim to engineer proteins with advanced metabolic capabilities by investigating many different versions of the same protein in parallel. Furthermore, the protein expression machinery of non-standard bacterial organisms such as V. natriegens, can be highly specialized for particular biological functions, and in some cases are more suitable than E. coli, the biotechnology community’s current workhorse and primary chassis for cell-free protein expression.
Bayer LifeHub Boston, which connects the Bayer Divisions of Pharmaceuticals, Crop Science, and Consumer Health with the Boston tech ecosystem, gifted $20,000 to Wiegand’s project to help further evaluate its benefits and potential with continued interest in the Wyss Institute’s protein engineering project. The Bayer Protein Production Challenge was sponsored by a project in the Life Science Collaboration Program, in which Bayer explores new science and technology while promoting scientific collaboration and exchange.