This dissertation reports on the technology of cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) including 1) stabilized lyophilized cell-free systems and 2) enhanced heterogeneous cell extracts. This work further considers applications of CFPS systems in 1) rapid vaccine development, 2) functional virus-based nanoparticles, 3) site-specific protein immobilization, and 4) expanding the language of biology using unnatural amino acids. CFPS technology is a versatile protein production platform that has many features unavailable in in vivo expression systems. The primary benefit cell-free systems provide is the direct access to the reaction environment, which is no longer hindered by the presence of a cell-wall. The “openness” of the system makes it a compelling candidate for many technologies. One limitation of CFPS is the necessity of freezing for long-term viable storage. We demonstrate that a lyophilized CFPS system is more stable against nonideal storage than traditional CFPS reagents. The Escherichia coli-based CFPS system in this work is limited by the biocatalytic machinery found natively in E. coli. To combat these limitations, exogenous biocatalysts can be expressed during fermentation of cells prepared into extract. We demonstrate that simple adjustments in the fermentation conditions can significantly increase the activity of the heterogeneous extract. Towards virus-based particles and vaccines, we demonstrate that the open nature of CFPS can be utilized for coexpression of virus proteins and self-assembly of virus particles. This technique allows for the rapid production of potential vaccines and novel functional virus-based nanoparticles. Unnatural amino acids expand the effective language of protein biology. Utilizing CFPS as an expression system, we demonstrated that the incorporation of a single specific unnatural amino acid allows for site-specific immobilization, thus stabilizing the protein against elevated temperatures and chemical denaturants. Current unnatural amino acid incorporation technologies are limited to one or few simultaneous incorporations and suffer from low efficiency. This work proposes a system that could potentially allow for upwards of 40 unnatural amino acids to be simultaneously incorporated, effectively tripling the protein code. These projects demonstrate the power and versatility of CFPS technologies while laying the foundation for promising technologies in the field of biotechnology.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Chemical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





Mark Smith, cell-free protein synthesis, virus-based particles, Foot-and-mouth disease virus, unnatural amino acids, codon reassignment