Purification of an acidic recombinant protein from transgenic tobacco


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Virginia Tech


Tobacco has been studied as a host for producing recombinant therapeutic proteins on a large-scale, commercial basis. However, the proteins expressed in tobacco usually need to be purified to high yield and purity from large amounts of biomass in order for their production to be commercially viable. The methods needed to purify proteins from tobacco are very challenging and not well studied. The objective of this research was to develop a process for the purification of the acidic model protein, recombinant β-glucuronidase (rGUS), from transgenic tobacco leaf tissue to high yield and purity.

Polyelectrolyte precipitation with polyethyleneimine (PEI) was identified as an initial purification step for purifying acidic recombinant proteins from tobacco. Polyethyleneimine precipitation allowed for high recovery and concentration of the target protein while removing large amounts of impurities from the initial extract. At dosages of 700-800 mg PEI/g total protein, nearly 100% of the rGUS activity was precipitated with generally more than 90% recovered from the pellet. In addition, more than 60% of the native tobacco proteins were removed in the process, resulting in a purification factor near 4.

Recombinant GUS was further purified by a step of hydrophobic interaction chromatography (HIC) followed by a step of hydroxyapatite chromatography (HAC). The HIC step served to remove PEI and other contaminants such as nucleic acids that were accumulated during the precipitation step, while the HAC step served to separate rGUS from the remaining native tobacco proteins, most notably ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase (Rubisco). Nearly 40% of the initial rGUS activity was recovered as a near homogeneous fraction based on SDS-PAGE analysis after the three step process.

The main steps used in this process are anticipated to be scalable and do not rely on affinity separations, making the process potentially applicable to a wide variety of acidic recombinant proteins expressed in tobacco as well as other leafy crops.



liquid chromatography, protein purification, transgenic tobacco, β-glucuronidase, polyelectrolyte precipitation