Analysis of the innovation trend in cell-free synthetic biology

Conary Meyer, Yusuke Nakamura, Blake J. Rasor, Ashty S. Karim, Michael C. Jewett, Cheemeng Tan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Cell-free synthetic biology is a maturing field that aims to assemble biomolecular reactions outside cells for compelling applications in drug discovery, metabolic engineering, biomanufacturing, diagnostics, and education. Cell-free systems have several key features. They circumvent mechanisms that have evolved to facilitate species survival, bypass limitations on molecular transport across the cell wall, enable high-yielding and rapid synthesis of proteins without creating recombinant cells, and provide high tolerance towards toxic substrates or products. Here, we analyze ~750 published patents and ~2000 peer-reviewed manuscripts in the field of cell-free systems. Three hallmarks emerged. First, we found that both patent filings and manuscript publications per year are significantly increasing (five-fold and 1.5-fold over the last decade, respectively). Second, we observed that the innovation landscape has changed. Patent applications were dominated by Japan in the early 2000s before shifting to China and the USA in recent years. Finally, we discovered an increasing prevalence of biotechnology companies using cell-free systems. Our analysis has broad implications on the future development of cell-free synthetic biology for commercial and industrial applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number551
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Cell-free protein synthesis
  • Industry
  • Patent
  • Synthetic biology
  • TX-TL
  • Transcription and translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Palaeontology
  • Space and Planetary Science


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