Understanding recombinant proteins, techniques and uses

Understanding recombinant proteins, techniques and uses

Recombinant proteins stand as a pivotal innovation in biotechnology, capable of driving significant benefits across a wide range of industries. 

From the development of therapeutic drugs to the creation of sustainable food alternatives, these engineered proteins are indispensable. At Cocoon, we want to be at the heart of this revolution, offering state-of-the-art solutions that enhance protein production efficiency, cost-effectiveness, performance, and more.  

Below, we’re exploring the various sophisticated techniques used in recombinant protein production, discussing several possible host systems, and highlighting the many applications for recombinant proteins across different sectors. 

Read on to learn more.  

What are recombinant proteins? 

Put simply, recombinant proteins are proteins made by combining DNA from different sources. To produce a recombinant protein, scientists insert a gene that encodes the protein into a host cell. This host cell then ‘expresses’, or produces, the protein by reading the inserted genetic instructions. 

This process allows scientists to create specific proteins for various purposes, such as medical treatments, cosmetics, research, industrial applications, and cultivated meat. 

Exploring advanced production techniques 

While the process of creating recombinant proteins was pioneered as far back as the 1970s, it’s continued to evolve to this day, especially with the introduction of advanced methods, including molecular cloning, polymerase chain reaction (PCR). 

Molecular cloning 

Molecular cloning involves the replication of specific DNA fragments, enabling researchers to create identical copies, or clones, of desired genes. It’s pivotal for inserting genes to encode growth factors and other functional proteins necessary for the development and growth of muscle cells.  

Take cultivated meat, for example. By manipulating the genetic material within cultured cells, researchers can effectively produce meat without the need to raise and slaughter animals, thereby offering a sustainable alternative to conventional meat production methods. 

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) 

PCR is a technique used to amplify specific DNA segments and make numerous copies of a targeted DNA sequence.  

The method involves cycles of heating and cooling that facilitate the selective replication of DNA, and is indispensable for amplifying DNA sequences (encoding these proteins before their insertion into host cells for expression).  

By generating large quantities of the desired DNA sequences, PCR can enable the efficient production of recombinant proteins used in various applications. For example, in cultivated meat, it can ensure that the cells used for meat production are free from contaminants and maintain the desired genetic characteristics necessary for high-quality meat production. 

Understanding protein expression systems 

Selecting the appropriate protein expression system is crucial for efficient production because each system offers distinct advantages and challenges. 

Bacterial systems 

Bacterial systems, such as Escherichia coli, are frequently used for their rapid growth and high yield.  

These systems are cost-effective and easy to manipulate genetically. However, they may struggle with proper folding and post-translational modifications required for some eukaryotic proteins. 

Yeast and insect systems 

Yeast systems, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, offer a middle ground, combining the fast growth of bacteria with some post-translational modification capabilities. Yeast systems are particularly useful for producing proteins that require glycosylation.  

Insect cells, like those from the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), are advantageous for producing complex proteins. The baculovirus expression system is commonly used here because it is capable of high-level protein production with post-translational modifications similar to those in mammalian cells. 

Mammalian systems 

Mammalian systems, including Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells, are the gold standard for producing therapeutic proteins, especially antibodies. That’s because mammalian cells offer the most accurate post-translational modifications and proper protein folding, albeit at a higher cost and longer production times. 

New expression systems 

New expression systems are paving the way for revolutionary advancements in protein production and therapeutic development.  

One standout example is the emergence of advanced bioreactor technologies like our very own nature-based system. By providing a robust platform for precise control over cellular environments, these systems enhance reproducibility and scalability, addressing critical challenges in bioprocessing. 

By using cocoons as natural bioreactors, we can effectively automate and scale up cell culture processes at competitive prices, offering highly productive environments that increase the volume of proteins produced and optimize gene expression. 

How are recombinant proteins used? 

Recombinant proteins are used in numerous industries, with each one benefiting from the precision and customization these proteins offer. 

Just some of these applications include:  

Developing therapeutic drugs 

Did you know that insulin was one of the first recombinant protein drugs? 

Recombinant proteins are pivotal in biopharmaceuticals. They’re used to develop therapies for a wide range of conditions, with monoclonal antibodies helping to treat autoimmune diseases and cancers with targeted and effective treatment options. 

Tailoring enzymes 

Industrially, recombinant enzymes are used in various sectors, including food processing, biofuels, and textiles.  

Their tailored properties, such as enhanced stability and activity under specific conditions, make them invaluable. For example, just turn to the pharmaceutical industry, where recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). A highly important tailored enzyme, recombinant tPA is used to break down blood clots, and is primarily used in the treatment of strokes, myocardial infarction (heart attacks), and pulmonary embolisms. 

Growth factors and cultivated meat 

Recombinant proteins can be used to create growth factors and other compounds necessary for the growth and development of cultured meat cells.  

These proteins are often produced using biotechnology techniques, where genes encoding these proteins are inserted into host cells (like bacteria or yeast), which then produce the desired proteins in large quantities.  

Recombinant proteins help to create an environment that supports the growth of muscle cells and other tissues, helping to produce cultivated meat cost-effectively and accessibly in laboratories. 

Biopharmaceutical production 

Biopharmaceutical production heavily relies on recombinant proteins for creating vaccines, hormones, and other therapeutic agents. The precision and scalability of recombinant protein technology make it possible to meet global demands for high-quality medical treatments. 

What does the future hold for recombinant proteins? 

Advances in bioreactor technology and synthetic biology are driving innovation in protein production, making it more efficient and scalable. Looking ahead, recombinant proteins are set to continue revolutionizing healthcare and biotechnology.  

This promises to expand the therapeutic potential of recombinant proteins, enabling the development of personalized biopharmaceuticals with enhanced properties and functionalities.  

What’s more, efforts towards sustainability in bioprocessing are paving the way for truly environmentally friendly production methods.  

As these technologies evolve, recombinant proteins are poised to continue playing a pivotal role in addressing global health and food supply challenges, as well as driving forward new biotechnological applications across diverse industries. 

Our philosophy is simple: nature knows best 

Recombinant proteins are a testament to the power of modern biotechnology, offering unparalleled versatility and application potential. 

From therapeutic drugs to innovative food solutions, these proteins are instrumental in driving progress.  

As production techniques advance and new applications emerge, innovations like our CrisBio platform, which leverages living but immobile chrysalis bioreactors, are helping take recombinant protein production to the next level: helping to accelerate positive development and innovation in multiple markets. 

Visit our blog to learn more about the very latest recombinant protein insights, our mission, and how we can help you achieve your production goals.