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An engineered diatom acting like a plasma cell secreting human IgG antibodies with high efficiency

Franziska Hempel1* and Uwe G Maier12

Author Affiliations

1 LOEWE Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO), Hans-Meerwein-Strasse, Marburg, D-35032, Germany

2 Laboratory for Cell Biology, Philipps-Universit├Ąt Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch Strasse 8, Marburg, D-35032, Germany

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:126  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-126

Published: 13 September 2012



Although there are many different expression systems for recombinant production of pharmaceutical proteins, many of these suffer from drawbacks such as yield, cost, complexity of purification, and possible contamination with human pathogens. Microalgae have enormous potential for diverse biotechnological applications and currently attract much attention in the biofuel sector. Still underestimated, though, is the idea of using microalgae as solar-fueled expression system for the production of recombinant proteins.


In this study, we show for the first time that completely assembled and functional human IgG antibodies can not only be expressed to high levels in algal systems, but also secreted very efficiently into the culture medium. We engineered the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum to synthesize and secrete a human IgG antibody against the Hepatitis B Virus surface protein. As the diatom P. tricornutum is not known to naturally secrete many endogenous proteins, the secreted antibodies are already very pure making extensive purification steps redundant and production extremely cost efficient.


Microalgae combine rapid growth rates with all the advantages of eukaryotic expression systems, and offer great potential for solar-powered, low cost production of pharmaceutical proteins.

Diatoms; Expression system; IgG antibody; Protein secretion