Israeli researchers have found a method to immensely speed up the process of producing proteins used as drugs and for a wide variety of other applications, the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) reported Thursday.
The researchers used advanced methods of “mass spectrometry” — a technology that determines a protein’s makeup down to the atom, the WIS report said.
So far, when the contents of entire cells are analyzed using this technique, proteins produced in larger than usual amounts in these cells overshadow all the others, causing the other proteins to remain practically invisible.
The WIS researchers turned this disadvantage into an advantage by examining one protein, which is produced in large quantities and makes the other proteins in the cell invisible.
The team used recombinant proteins, which are produced by the appearance of DNA molecules created from several DNA fragments from various sources.
These proteins are used in the food and drug industry and are produced by “over-expression,” as the gene for a protein is inserted into a small DNA molecule inside a bacterium, yeast or an animal or human cell, which then starts making this protein in large amounts.
Today, to test the quality of a protein produced in this way, it is necessary to kill the cell in which it is formed and isolate the protein in a “purification” process that lasts 48-72 hours.
However, it took the WIS researchers only 30 minutes to map the protein using mass spectrometry, thus saving the long expensive purification process.
Thus, the scientists were able to assess plenty of the protein’s characteristics, including its molecular weight, folding, solubility, assembly state, overall structure and even its ability to bind to other relevant biological molecules.
This finding is particularly valuable in view of the recent dramatic increase in the use of recombinant proteins in producing medicines, as well as in paper, leather, detergents, textiles, biofuels and food industries.