Cell-free systems

Cell-free expression of fluorescent protein and biosynthesis of violacein (image: Fernan Federici)

Cell-free expression of fluorescent protein and biosynthesis of violacein
(image: Fernan Federici)

Recent technical advances in the preparation of microbial cell-free extracts have given rise to a new class of highly efficient systems for gene expression that are cheap to deploy and have huge potential benefit for the provision of a wide variety of diagnostics, sensors, vaccines and research materials. Further, the extracts can be stored desiccated, stable for over a year, and reactivated at the point of use by hydration. The cell free extracts can be programmed by the addition of DNA to allow rapid and simple prototyping of gene circuits for diagnostics or bioproduction.

 In vitro biology provides a number of key advantages for the design, assembly and testing of DNA encoded circuits for diagnostics and environmental sensing. Cell-free extracts avoid the complications, delays and regulatory uncertainty associated with uncontained of GMOs, while providing opportunities for high level, low cost training and capacity building.

The emerging technology enables engineering of DNA circuits without the need for genetic modification and in a low­ cost manner that makes it accessible for researchers in low­ resource settings. OpenPlant is sponsoring efforts to develop new educational and training materials for use in the UK and developing countries.