The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 betacoronavirus has highlighted the need for a synthetic biology approach to create reliable and scalable sources of viral antigen for uses in diagnostics, therapeutics and basic biomedical research. Here, we adapt plasmid-based systems in the eukaryotic microalgae Phaeodactylum tricornutum to develop an inducible overexpression system for SARS-CoV-2 proteins. Limiting phosphate and iron in growth media induced expression of the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein from the P. tricornutum HASP1 promoter in the wild-type strain and in a histidine auxotrophic strain that alleviates the requirement for antibiotic selection of expression plasmids. The RBD was purified from whole cell extracts (algae-RBD) with yield compromised by the finding that 90–95% of expressed RBD lacked the genetically encoded C-terminal 6X-histidine tag. Constructs that lacked the TEV protease site between the RBD and C-terminal 6X-histidine tag retained the tag, increasing yield. Purified algae-RBD was found to be N-linked glycosylated by treatment with endoglycosidases, was cross-reactive with anti-RBD polyclonal antibodies, and inhibited binding of recombinant RBD purified from mammalian cell lines to the human ACE2 receptor. We also show that the algae-RBD can be used in a lateral flow assay device to detect SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG antibodies from donor serum at sensitivity equivalent to assays performed with RBD made in mammalian cell lines. Our study shows that P. tricornutum is a scalable system with minimal biocontainment requirements for the inducible production of SARS-CoV-2 or other coronavirus antigens for pandemic diagnostics.

Fuente: Scientific Reports