Engineering the process of molecular translation, or protein biosynthesis, has emerged as a major opportunity in synthetic and chemical biology to generate novel biological insights and enable new applications (e.g. designer protein therapeutics). Here, we review methods for engineering the process of translation in vitro. We discuss the advantages and drawbacks of the two major strategies––purified and extract-based systems––and how they may be used to manipulate and study translation. Techniques to engineer each component of the translation machinery are covered in turn, including transfer RNAs, translation factors, and the ribosome. Finally, future directions and enabling technological advances for the field are discussed.
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