Tailoring of the activity and specificity of proteases is critical for their utility across industrial, medical and research purposes. However, engineering or evolving protease catalysts is challenging and often labour intensive. Here, we describe a generic method to accelerate this process based on yeast display. We introduce the protease selection system A2Mcap that covalently captures protease catalysts by repurposed alpha-2-macroglobulin (A2Ms). To demonstrate the utility of A2Mcap for protease engineering we exemplify the directed activity and specificity evolution of six serine proteases. This resulted in a variant of Staphylococcus aureus serin-protease-like (Spl) protease SplB, an enzyme used for recombinant protein processing, that no longer requires activation by N-terminal signal peptide removal. SCHEMA-based domain shuffling was used to map the specificity determining regions of Spl proteases, leading to a chimeric scaffold that supports specificity switching via subdomain exchange. The ability of A2Mcap to overcome key challenges en route to tailor-made proteases suggests easier access to such reagents in the future.
© 2023. The Author(s).