Recombinant proteins are proteins that are produced by genetically engineered organisms, usually bacteria, yeast, or mammalian cells, which have been modified to carry the gene encoding the protein of interest. The term “recombinant” refers to the process of recombining DNA from different sources, which is used to introduce the target gene into the host organism.
Recombinant protein production involves several steps:
- Gene cloning: The gene encoding the protein of interest is isolated and inserted into a suitable expression vector (a circular DNA molecule, usually a plasmid) using restriction enzymes and DNA ligase.
- Transformation: The expression vector containing the target gene is introduced into the host organism, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast), or Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells. The host organism takes up the foreign DNA and incorporates it into its own genome or maintains it as a separate plasmid.
- Expression: The host organism is cultured under optimal conditions to promote the expression of the recombinant protein. The promoter sequence present in the expression vector determines when and how much of the protein is produced.
- Protein purification: Once the recombinant protein is expressed, it is extracted from the host organism and purified using various chromatographic techniques, such as affinity chromatography, ion-exchange chromatography, or size-exclusion chromatography. The purity and quality of the protein are assessed using techniques like SDS-PAGE and Western blotting.
Recombinant proteins have numerous applications in research, medicine, and industry, including:
- Therapeutic proteins: Many recombinant proteins are used as drugs to treat a variety of diseases, such as insulin for diabetes, erythropoietin for anemia, and monoclonal antibodies for cancer and autoimmune diseases.
- Vaccines: Recombinant proteins can be used as antigens in vaccines to stimulate an immune response against a specific pathogen, without the risk of causing the disease. Examples include the hepatitis B vaccine and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
- Enzymes: Recombinant enzymes are used in various industrial processes, such as food production, biofuel production, and waste management. For example, recombinant proteases are used in detergents to break down proteins in stains.
- Research tools: Recombinant proteins are widely used as molecular tools in research to study protein function, protein-protein interactions, and signaling pathways. Examples include recombinant growth factors, cytokines, and fluorescent proteins, such as green fluorescent protein (GFP).
The production of recombinant proteins has revolutionized the field of biotechnology and has greatly expanded our ability to study and manipulate biological systems, as well as develop new therapies for various diseases.