Portable, On-Demand Biomolecular Manufacturing

Cell. 2016 Sep 22;167(1):248-259.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.09.013.


Synthetic biology uses living cells as molecular foundries for the biosynthesis of drugs, therapeutic proteins, and other commodities. However, the need for specialized equipment and refrigeration for production and distribution poses a challenge for the delivery of these technologies to the field and to low-resource areas. Here, we present a portable platform that provides the means for on-site, on-demand manufacturing of therapeutics and biomolecules. This flexible system is based on reaction pellets composed of freeze-dried, cell-free transcription and translation machinery, which can be easily hydrated and utilized for biosynthesis through the addition of DNA encoding the desired output. We demonstrate this approach with the manufacture and functional validation of antimicrobial peptides and vaccines and present combinatorial methods for the production of antibody conjugates and small molecules. This synthetic biology platform resolves important practical limitations in the production and distribution of therapeutics and molecular tools, both to the developed and developing world.

Keywords: antibody mimetic conjugates; antimicrobial peptides; cell-free expression; decentralized biomanufacturing; freeze-dried; on-demand biosynthesis; portable molecular manufacturing; synthetic biology; vaccine antigens; violacein biosynthetic pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / biosynthesis*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / genetics
  • Cell-Free System
  • Combinatorial Chemistry Techniques
  • Humans
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Vaccines / biosynthesis*
  • Vaccines / genetics


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Vaccines