Host: Prof. Francois Baneyx, Dept. of Chemical Engineering
Establishing cell-free biology for the production of therapeutics, materials, and energy
Imagine a world in which we could adapt biology to manufacture any therapeutic, material, or chemical from renewable resources, both quickly and on demand. Industrial biotechnology is one of the most attractive approaches for addressing this need, particularly when large-scale chemical synthesis is untenable. Unfortunately, engineering whole-cell microorganisms remains costly, risky, and slow. A key problem is the limitations imposed by cells. Common challenges afflicting the current state-of-the-art include low volumetric productivities (g/L/hr), build-up of toxic intermediates or products, byproduct losses via competing pathways, and constraints arising from the fact that microbial growth and adaptation objectives are often diametrically opposed to the overproduction and release of a single product. To overcome these limitations, we are re-conceptualizing the way we engineer biocatalytic ensembles designed to make a target product. Rather than attempt to balance the tug-of-war between the cell'sobjectives and the engineer's objectives, we are developing new paradigms for designing, building, and testing cell-free systems that harness and modify biological systems involved in protein synthesis and metabolism. In this presentation, I will discuss our efforts to develop cost-effective, high-throughput cell-free protein synthesis platforms and construct and evolve synthetic ribosomes. Our work is enabling a deeper understanding of why nature's designs work the way they do and opening new frontiers for biomanufacturing.