Background: A large amount of recombinant proteins can be synthesized in a few hours with Escherichia coli cell-free expression systems based on bacteriophage transcription. These cytoplasmic extracts are used in many applications that require large-scale protein production such as proteomics and high throughput techniques. In recent years, cell-free systems have also been used to engineer complex informational processes. These works, however, have been limited by the current available cell-free systems, which are not well adapted to these types of studies. In particular, no method has been proposed to increase the mRNA inactivation rate and the protein degradation rate in cell-free reactions. The construction of in vitro informational processes with interesting dynamics requires a balance between mRNA and protein synthesis (the source), and mRNA inactivation and protein degradation (the sink).Results: Two quantitative studies are presented to characterize and to increase the global mRNA inactivation rate, and to accelerate the degradation of the synthesized proteins in an E. coli cell-free expression system driven by the endogenous RNA polymerase and sigma factor 70. The E. coli mRNA interferase MazF was used to increase and to adjust the mRNA inactivation rate of the Firefly luciferase (Luc) and of the enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP). Peptide tags specific to the endogenous E. coli AAA + proteases were used to induce and to adjust the protein degradation rate of eGFP. Messenger RNA inactivation rate, protein degradation rate, maturation time of Luc and eGFP were measured.Conclusions: The global mRNA turnover and the protein degradation rate can be accelerated and tuned in a biologically relevant range in a cell-free reaction with quantitative procedures easy to implement. These features broaden the capabilities of cell-free systems with a better control of gene expression. This cell-free extract could find some applications in new research areas such as in vitro synthetic biology and systems biology where engineering informational processes requires a quantitative control of mRNA inactivation and protein degradation.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors thank Nadezda Monina for technical assistance in the extract preparation and Catherine Raach for reading and correcting the manuscript. This work was supported by UMN startup funds, BSF Binational Science Foundation grant 2006398, National Science Foundation grant PHY-0750133.