To give people a taste of what we have in store for the 2018-19 biological project, we organised an introductory workshop to demonstrate cell-free gene expression. Despite the pouring rain, we had a good turnout of about 30 people, including those from hill colleges like Girton, 7 km away from Biomakespace!
In biological systems, gene expression is central to the functions of the cell, and consists of converting DNA into RNA with transcription followed by using RNA as a code to produce protein in translation. Cell-free gene expression is the use of an extract from the cells that contains the necessary cellular machinery for transcription and translation. Therefore, adding a piece of DNA to a cell-free gene expression kit would result in the production of the protein it codes for. Cell-free expression therefore offers the advantage of reducing the steps used in traditional gene expression experiments.
In our case, we used a commercially available kit containing extracts from the bacterium E. coli. Our DNA sources include plasmids (circular DNA) coding for a green fluorescent protein and red fluorescent protein. The results were as expected: pipetting the extract into a solution with the green fluorescent plasmid resulted in the tube glowing green under UV light. We also made sure to include a negative control: the same set-up but with water instead of the extract. This is to make sure that our conclusions are valid, something important to make sure of in science!
Thanks to Prof Jim Hasseloff, courtesy of the OpenPlant fund for providing the kits!