Scientists now have a way to study special proteins associated with disease
Researchers from Northwestern University and Yale University have developed a user-friendly technology to help scientists understand how proteins work and how to fix them when they are broken. Such knowledge could pave the way for new drugs for a myriad of diseases, including cancer.
The human body has a nifty way of turning its proteins on and off to alter their function and activity in cells: phosphorylation, the reversible attachment of phosphate groups to proteins. These “decorations” on proteins provide an enormous variety of function and are essential to all forms of life. Little is known, however, about how this dynamic process works in humans.
Using a special strain of E. coli bacteria, the researchers have built a cell-free protein synthesis platform technology that can manufacture large quantities of these human phosphoproteins for scientific study. This will enable scientists to learn more about the function and structure of phosphoproteins and identify which ones are involved in disease.
“This innovation will help advance the understanding of human biochemistry and physiology,” said Michael C. Jewett, a biochemical engineer who led the Northwestern team.
The study was published Sept. 9 by the journal Nature Communications.
Trouble in the phosphorylation process can be a hallmark of disease, such as cancer, inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. The human proteome (the entire set of expressed proteins) is estimated to be phosphorylated at more than 100,000 unique sites, making study of phosphorylated proteins and their role in disease a daunting task.
“Our technology begins to make this a tractable problem,” Jewett said. “We now can make these special proteins at unprecedented yields, with a freedom of design that is not possible in living organisms. The consequence of this innovative strategy is enormous.”
Jewett, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, and his team worked with Yale colleagues led by Jesse Rinehart. Jewett and Rinehart are co-corresponding authors of the study.
As a synthetic biologist, Jewett uses cell-free systems to create new therapies, chemicals and novel materials to impact public health and the environment.
“This work addresses the broader question of how can we repurpose the protein synthesis machinery of the cell for synthetic biology,” Jewett said. “Here we are finding new ways to leverage this machinery to understand fundamental biological questions, specifically protein phosphorylation.”
Jewett and his colleagues combined state-of-the-art genome engineering tools and engineered biological “parts” into a “plug-and-play” protein expression platform that is cell-free. Cell-free systems activate complex biological systems without using living intact cells. Crude cell lysates, or extracts, are employed instead.
Specifically, the researchers prepared cell lysates of genomically recoded bacteria that incorporate amino acids not found in nature. This allowed them to harness the cell’s engineered machinery and turn it into a factory, capable of on-demand biomanufacturing new classes of proteins.
“This manufacturing technology will enable scientists to decrypt the phosphorylation ‘code’ that exists in the human proteome,” said Javin P. Oza, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in Jewett’s lab.
To demonstrate their cell-free platform technology, the researchers produced a human kinase that is involved in tumor cell proliferation and showed that it was functional and active. Kinase is an enzyme (a protein acting as a catalyst) that transfers a phosphate group onto a protein. Through this process, kinases activate the function of proteins within the cell. Kinases are implicated in many diseases and, therefore, of particular interest.
“The ability to produce kinases for study should be useful in learning how these proteins function and in developing new types of drugs,” Jewett said.
The National Institutes of Health (grants NIDDK-K01DK089006 and P01DK01743341), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (grant N66001-12-C-4211) and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation Fellowship supported the research.
The title of the paper is “Robust production of recombinant phosphoproteins using cell-free protein synthesis.” The other co-first author is Hans R. Aerni, of Yale.
Megan Fellman | Northwestern University
New insight into a central biological dogma on ion transport
26.06.2017 | Aarhus University
UK chemistry researchers develop catalyst that mimics the z-scheme of photosynthesis
26.06.2017 | University of Kentucky
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Health and Medicine