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Recombinant production of a functional SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor binding domain in the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii


Recombinant production of viral proteins can be used to produce vaccine antigens or reagents to identify antibodies in patient serum. Minimally, these proteins must be correctly folded and have appropriate post-translation modifications. Here we report the production of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein Receptor Binding Domain (RBD) in the green algae Chlamydomonas. RBD fused to a fluorescent reporter protein accumulates as an intact protein when targeted for ER-Golgi retention or secreted from the cell, while a chloroplast localized version is truncated. The ER-retained RBD fusion protein was able to bind the human ACE2 receptor, the host target of SARS-CoV-2, and was specifically out-competed by mammalian cell-produced recombinant RBD, suggesting that the algae produced proteins are sufficiently post-translationally modified to act as authentic SARS-CoV-2 antigens. Because algae can be grown at large scale very inexpensively, this recombinant protein may be a low cost alternative to other expression platforms.

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