Escherichia coli-Based Cell-Free Protein Synthesis: Protocols for a robust, flexible, and accessible platform technology

Max Z. Levine, Nicole E. Gregorio, Michael C. Jewett, Katharine R. Watts, Javin P. Oza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Over the last 50 years, Cell-Free Protein Synthesis (CFPS) has emerged as a powerful technology to harness the transcriptional and translational capacity of cells within a test tube. By obviating the need to maintain the viability of the cell, and by eliminating the cellular barrier, CFPS has been foundational to emerging applications in biomanufacturing of traditionally challenging proteins, as well as applications in rapid prototyping for metabolic engineering, and functional genomics. Our methods for implementing an E. coli-based CFPS platform allow new users to access many of these applications. Here, we describe methods to prepare extract through the use of enriched media, baffled flasks, and a reproducible method of tunable sonication-based cell lysis. This extract can then be used for protein expression capable of producing 900 µg/mL or more of super folder green fluorescent protein (sfGFP) in just 5 h from experimental setup to data analysis, given that appropriate reagent stocks have been prepared beforehand. The estimated startup cost of obtaining reagents is $4,500 which will sustain thousands of reactions at an estimated cost of $0.021 per µg of protein produced or $0.019 per µL of reaction. Additionally, the protein expression methods mirror the ease of the reaction setup seen in commercially available systems due to optimization of reagent pre-mixes, at a fraction of the cost. In order to enable the user to leverage the flexible nature of the CFPS platform for broad applications, we have identified a variety of aspects of the platform that can be tuned and optimized depending on the resources available and the protein expression outcomes desired.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of visualized experiments : JoVE
Issue number144
StatePublished - Feb 25 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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