According to a new study, scientists have established a new method to produce proteins outside of a cell that could have important implications in therapeutics and biomaterials. The advance could make possible decentralized manufacturing and distribution processes for protein therapeutics that might, in the future, promote better access to costly drugs all over the world. The study was published online in Nature Communications.

The team set out to improve the quality of manufactured proteins in vitro, or outside a cell, and found success across many fronts. They developed a bacterial cell-free protein synthesis system that is capable of high-level expression of pure proteins containing multiple non-canonical amino acids, said Michael Jewett.

"This is important because it allows us to expand the range of genetically encoded chemistry incorporated into proteins in previously unattainable ways." Protein production plays a critical role in medicine, biotechnologies, and life sciences. Recombinant protein production is further processed.

Protein Production has transformed the lives of millions of people through the synthesis of biopharmaceuticals, like insulin, and industrial enzymes, like those used in laundry detergents. Conventionally, protein production has been accomplished in living cells in large centralized manufacturing facilities.

Without the worry of trying to keep a cell alive, this process opens many possibilities, including the synthesis of new classes of enzymes, therapeutics, materials, and chemicals with diverse chemistry. A living cell may balk when asked to do something it hasn't seen in its evolutionary biology, not so for a cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) platform.

The problem up to this point, though, has been that efforts to use CFPS systems for expanding multiple non-canonical amino acids have been limited by competition with the natural machinery that terminates protein synthesis. As a result, manufacturing proteins harboring diverse chemistries with high purity and yields has presented a formidable challenge.

Researchers team produced the highest yields of proteins with non-canonical amino acids ever reported for in vitro systems, suggesting that long-term commercial applications for CFPS might be realistic. They enhanced the cell-free environment to enable multiple identical non-canonical amino acids to be incorporated.

Jewett imagines applications not just with medicines but also biomaterials for drug delivery systems, medical materials such as surgical sutures, and functionalized biopolymers. It has the potential to open an entirely new area of materials chemistry research for biotechnology and, more broadly, could enable new paradigms of on-demand biomanufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics.