Cell-free protein synthesis and assembly on a biochip

Nat Nanotechnol. 2012 May 27;7(6):374-8. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2012.65.


Biologically active complexes such as ribosomes and bacteriophages are formed through the self-assembly of proteins and nucleic acids. Recapitulating these biological self-assembly processes in a cell-free environment offers a way to develop synthetic biodevices. To visualize and understand the assembly process, a platform is required that enables simultaneous synthesis, assembly and imaging at the nanoscale. Here, we show that a silicon dioxide grid, used to support samples in transmission electron microscopy, can be modified into a biochip to combine in situ protein synthesis, assembly and imaging. Light is used to pattern the biochip surface with genes that encode specific proteins, and antibody traps that bind and assemble the nascent proteins. Using transmission electron microscopy imaging we show that protein nanotubes synthesized on the biochip surface in the presence of antibody traps efficiently assembled on these traps, but pre-assembled nanotubes were not effectively captured. Moreover, synthesis of green fluorescent protein from its immobilized gene generated a gradient of captured proteins decreasing in concentration away from the gene source. This biochip could be used to create spatial patterns of proteins assembled on surfaces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell-Free System / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry*
  • Lab-On-A-Chip Devices*
  • Nanotubes, Peptide / chemistry*
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Recombinant Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Silicon Dioxide / chemistry*


  • Nanotubes, Peptide
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Silicon Dioxide