Recombinant protein production in the chloroplast of microalgae: a systems biology approach

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Oluwafemi Davies


Several expression systems for recombinant protein production, essentially cells or whole organisms are currently in use today. Recently, research into recombinant protein production revealed a more attractive expression system based on the microalgae, C. reinhardtii, for significant savings in cost and production of correctly folded recombinant proteins. However, protein yield in the microalgae remain very low, non-predictable and whether this was due to limitations in the system was unclear. Using the expression of E. coli β-glucuronidase (gus) in C. reinhardtii chloroplast, the overall aim of the project was to address if the low recombinant gus yield in C. reinhardtii was due to limitations that affect growth and protein production, and if the fluxes for recombinant gus production were suboptimal (limiting). The finding was used to implement a strategy for a more predictable recombinant protein yield in C. reinhardtii. The research involved a range of experiments, analysis, and Flux Balance Analysis (FBA) modelling.The growth of C. reinhardtii cultures were characterized in autotrophic, heterotrophic and mixotrophic conditions to identify factors that limit growth and recombinant gus yields. These factors were availability of light, carbon and nitrogen substrates, pH changes, protein burden and energetic limitation (ATP). The highest biomass was obtained in autotrophic and mixotrophic cultures (>1 g/litre), the lowest biomass was in heterotrophic cultures (~0.4 g/litre). The recombinant gus yields on the basis of dry cell weight were: mixotrophic cultures (0.038%), autotrophic cultures (0.032%), heterotrophic cultures (0.026%). No detectable protein burden was observed for expression of recombinant gus in autotrophic and mixotrophic conditions, but protein burden was significant in heterotrophic condition (15 - 18% reduction in growth rate). A strategy that significantly increased growth and cell productivity (>3 fold) in heterotrophic condition was identified. FBA was used to identify suboptimal amino acid steady state fluxes (bottlenecks) that limited the gus yield. Using FBA modelling, model verifications and corrections, a strategy that significantly increased the yield of recombinant gus in each cell (~2 fold) was identified. Put together, the total increase represents a 6 fold increase in recombinant gus yield. Furthermore, this research presented a framework for identifying, analysing and understanding the effect of the uptake of individual amino acid towards recombinant protein yield.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Hans Westerhoff (Supervisor)
  • Anil Day (Supervisor)
  • Jacky Snoep (Supervisor)
  • Malkhey Verma (Supervisor)
Award date1 Aug 2015