Expression of Foreign Proteins in Insect Cells
Production of large amounts of a particular protein is extremely valuable for both research and industrial purposes. Baculoviruses, which are double-stranded DNA viruses that infect mainly insects, have been developed as baculovirus expression vectors (BEVs) by genetic modification to include a gene of interest. BEVs can replicate in lepidopteran cells and larvae, thereby efficiently transferring foreign genes into eukaryotic cells. The foreign gene is usually under transcriptional control of a viral promoter so that the gene is transcribed by the virus, but translated by the host cell biosynthetic machinery. The BEV system is one of the best tools for recombinant protein expression in a eukaryotic host and has been used for the production of many different proteins for research purposes. The BEV system also has potential industrial application for the production of proteins used in vaccines, therapeutic agents, and diagnostic reagents. Advantages of this protein production system include production of large quantities of foreign protein, and eukaryotic protein processing allowing production of more authentic eukaryotic proteins. The BEV expression system is only transient, however, because the baculovirus ultimately kills the host cells. Baculoviruses do not infect vertebrates and therefore provide relative safety for laboratory manipulation. The use of a baculovirus for production of a foreign protein was first demonstrated by expression of human P-interferon and Escherichia coli P-galactosidase.
Insect cells can also be engineered directly to express the recombinant protein, without the baculovirus expression vector intermediate. Such insect cells are stably transformed to constitutively express a foreign gene. Expression levels are usually lower than for the BEV system, but stably transformed cells produce recombinant proteins continuously and process them more efficiently than infected cells.
Reporter enzymes allow monitoring of gene expression in living tissues and cells. The gene encoding the reporter enzyme is typically inserted under control of the promoter of the gene of interest, and production of the enzyme is monitored by means of an enzyme assay. Luciferases belong to a unique group of enzymes that produce light as an end product of catalysis. The luciferases derived from the North American firefly Photinus pyralis (Coleoptera) and the Jamaican click beetle Pyrophorus plagiophthalamus (Coleoptera) have been used as genetic reporter enzymes in virtually every experimental biological system, including prokaryotic and eukary-otic cell cultures, transgenic plants and animals, and cell-free expression systems. These luciferases, which evolved for the nocturnal mating behavior of the beetles, use ATP, oxygen, and D-luciferin as substrates in the catalysis of a light-producing reaction. The ease and reliability with which luciferase can be assayed, combined with the sensitivity of the technique, has made this enzyme a highly valuable research tool.
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