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Modifying Baculovirus Expression Vectors to Produce Secreted Plant Proteins in Insect Cells

Published: August 20th, 2018



1Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University

Here, we present the protocols for utilizing the insect cell and baculovirus protein expression system to produce large quantities of plant secreted proteins for protein crystallization. A baculovirus expression vector has been modified with either GP67 or insect hemolin signal peptide for plant protein secretion expression in insect cells.

It has been a challenge for scientists to express recombinant secretory eukaryotic proteins for structural and biochemical studies. The baculovirus-mediated insect cell expression system is one of the systems used to express recombinant eukaryotic secretory proteins with some post-translational modifications. The secretory proteins need to be routed through the secretory pathways for protein glycosylation, disulfide bonds formation, and other post-translational modifications. To improve the existing insect cell expression of secretory plant proteins, a baculovirus expression vector is modified by the addition of either a GP67 or a hemolin signal peptide sequence between the promoter and multiple-cloning sites. This newly designed modified vector system successfully produced a high yield of soluble recombinant secreted plant receptor proteins of Arabidopsis thaliana. Two of the expressed plant proteins, the extracellular domains of Arabidopsis TDR and PRK3 plasma membrane receptors, were crystallized for X-ray crystallographic studies. The modified vector system is an improved tool that can potentially be used for the expression of recombinant secretory proteins in the animal kingdom as well.

It is imperative for a research laboratory to be capable of producing large quantities of homogeneous recombinant proteins for biochemical and biophysical characterizations, especially for X-ray crystallographic studies. There are many well-established heterologous expression systems such as Escherichia coli, yeast, insect cells, mammalian cells, plant cells, etc. Among them, the baculovirus-mediated insect cell expression system is one of the most commonly used techniques to produce large quantities of structurally folded large-sized recombinant eukaryotic proteins for protein crystallization1.


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NOTE: An insect cell/baculovirus system with modified expression vectors for secretory plant protein expression and crystallization is used.

1. Modification of a Baculovirus Expression Vector with the GP67 Signal Peptide for Plant Protein Secretion Expression

  1. Synthesize a DNA fragment containing a 5' BglII cutting site13, the GP67 secretion signal sequence, and a multi-cloning site with NotI, BamHI, EcoRI, StuI, SalI, SpeI, XbaI, PstI, and XhoI (

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As shown in Figure 1, two modified pFastBac1 baculovirus expression vectors were used to express the secreted proteins with either the GP67 or the hemolin signal sequence to replace the intrinsic signal sequence of the target gene. The viral GP67 and the insect hemolin genes have been demonstrated to have high secretion expression levels in the cells. Fusion proteins with either of these two signal sequences are expected to have greatly improved secretion exp.......

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Given the diversity in size and stability of the thousands of proteins present in the biological systems, it is often empirical for a research laboratory to decide which heterologous expression system has to be chosen for the expression of a specific protein. The E. coli expression system is often the first choice for protein expression due to the short life cycle of the bacteria, low cost of the culture media, and relative ease to scale up19. For the expression of large eukaryotic protei.......

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This work was supported by the new faculty startup funds from North Carolina State University for Guozhou Xu.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Incubator shaker VWR Model Excella E25 27 oC
Incubator VWR Model 2005 27 oC
Centrifuge BECKMAN Model J-6 with a swing bucket rotor
Herculase II Fusion DNA Polymerase Agilent 600677-51 For PCR amplification of DNA
Thermal Cycler BIO-RAD Model C1000 Touch For PCR amplification of DNA
Incubator shaker New Brunswick Scientific Model I 24 For growing baceria culture
Customer DNA synthesis GENSCRIPT
BamHI (HF) New England Biolabs R3136S Restriction Endonuclease
BglII New England Biolabs R0144S Restriction Endonuclease
NotI (HF) New England Biolabs R3189S Restriction Endonuclease
XhoI New England Biolabs R0146S Restriction Endonuclease
T4 DNA ligase New England Biolabs M0202T DNA ligation
QIAquick Gel Extraction Kit Qiagen 28704 DNA purification from Agorase gel
QIAprep Spin Miniprep Kit Qiagen 27104 Plasmid DNA purification from bacteria culture
Agarose Thermo Fisher Scientific 15510-019 For DNA gel electropherosis
MAX Efficiency DH5α competen cell Invitrogen 18-258-012 For transformation of DNA ligation mixture
Lennox L LB Broth Research Product International Corp. L24066-5000.0 For making bacteria culture
Ampicillin sodium salt Thermo Fisher Scientific 11593-019 Antibiotics
Kanamycin Sulfate Thermo Fisher Scientific 15160-054 Antibiotics
Tetracycline Thermo Fisher Scientific 64-75-5 Antibiotics
Gentamicin Thermo Fisher Scientific 15710-064 Antibiotics
MAX Efficiency DH10Bac competent cells Thermo Fisher Scientific 10361-012 For making bacmid DNA
S.O.C. Medium Thermo Fisher Scientific 15544-034 For DNA transformation
CellFECTIN II Reagent Thermo Fisher Scientific 10362-101 Insect cell transfection reagent
Bac-to-Bac Expression System Thermo Fisher Scientific 10359-016 Baculovirus-insect cells expression kit
Bluo-gal Thermo Fisher Scientific 15519-028 For isolation of recominant Bacmid DNA
IPTG Thermo Fisher Scientific 15529-019 For isolation of recominant Bacmid DNA
pFastBac1 Thermo Fisher Scientific 10360014 Baculorirus expression vector
Sf9 cells Thermo Fisher Scientific 11496015 Sf9 monolayer cells
Hi5 cells Thermo Fisher Scientific B85502 High Five insect cells
Grace’s insect medium, unsupplemented Thermo Fisher Scientific 11595030 Sf9 cell transfection minimum medium
Grace’s insect medium, supplemented Thermo Fisher Scientific 11605102 Sf9 monolayer cell culture complete medium
Sf-900 II SFM Thermo Fisher Scientific 10902104 Sf9 suspension cell culture medium without FBS
Express Five SFM Thermo Fisher Scientific 10486025 Hi5 cell culture medium
Penicillin-Streptomycin  Thermo Fisher Scientific 15140122 100 ml (10,000 I.U./ml)
L-Glutamine (200 mM)  Thermo Fisher Scientific 25030081 100 ml
FBS Certified Thermo Fisher Scientific 16000-044 500 ml
6-well plates Thermo Fisher Scientific 08-772-1B Flat-bottom
150 mm plates Thermo Fisher Scientific 353025 100/case
1.5 ml Microcentrifuge Tubes USA Scientific 1415-2500 500 tubes/bag
15 ml conical screw cap centrifuge tubes USA Scientific 1475-0511 25 tubes/bag
50 ml conical screw cap centrifuge tubes USA Scientific 1500-1211 25 tubes/bag
Ni-NTA Superflow Qiagen 30430 NiNTA resin
pH-indicator strips EMD Millipore Corporation 1.09535.0001 pH 0 - 14

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