Overview of Cell‐Free Protein Synthesis: Historic Landmarks, Commercial Systems, and Expanding Applications

Shaorong Chong1

1 New England Biolabs, Ipswich, Massachusetts
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Molecular Biology
Unit Number:  Unit 16.30
DOI:  10.1002/0471142727.mb1630s108
Online Posting Date:  October, 2014
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During the early days of molecular biology, cell‐free protein synthesis played an essential role in deciphering the genetic code and contributed to our understanding of translation of protein from messenger RNA. Owing to several decades of major and incremental improvements, modern cell‐free systems have achieved higher protein synthesis yields at lower production costs. Commercial cell‐free systems are now available from a variety of material sources, ranging from “traditional” E. coli, rabbit reticulocyte lysate, and wheat germ extracts, to recent insect and human cell extracts, to defined systems reconstituted from purified recombinant components. Although each cell‐free system has certain advantages and disadvantages, the diversity of the cell‐free systems allows in vitro synthesis of a wide range of proteins for a variety of downstream applications. In the post‐genomic era, cell‐free protein synthesis has rapidly become the preferred approach for high‐throughput functional and structural studies of proteins and a versatile tool for in vitro protein evolution and synthetic biology. This unit provides a brief history of cell‐free protein synthesis and describes key advances in modern cell‐free systems, practical differences between widely used commercial cell‐free systems, and applications of this important technology. Curr. Protoc. Mol. Biol. 108:16.30.1‐16.30.11. © 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keywords: cell‐free protein synthesis; high throughput; unnatural amino acid; isotope labeling; in vitro protein evolution; artificial cell

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Early History of Cell‐Free Protein Synthesis
  • Landmark Advances in the Development of Cell‐Free Protein Synthesis Systems
  • Use of Commercially Available Cell‐Free Protein Synthesis Systems
  • Application of Cell‐Free Protein Synthesis
  • Conclusion
  • Tables
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Key References
  Spirin, A.S. and Swartz, J.R. (eds.). 2008. Cell‐free Protein Synthesis Methods and Protocols. Wiley‐VCH, Weinheim, Germany.
  Edited by two leading figures in the field, this book provides in‐depth reviews of almost every aspect of cell‐free protein synthesis, contributed by experts in different cell‐free systems.
  Nirenberg, M. 2004. See above.
  Marshall Nirenberg gave a vivid personal account of how his group used cell‐free protein synthesis to decipher the genetic code.
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