Chenming (Mike) Zhang is testing a variety of ways to economically recover recombinant proteins from transgenic tobacco using different protein separation techniques.
Zhang, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, is working with a team of three Ph.D. students to develop transgenic tobacco plants able to express recombinant proteins economically. Recombinant proteins are potential therapeutic agents for treating human and animal diseases and creating new vaccines. Plant-made vaccines are especially beneficial because plants are free of human diseases, reducing the cost to screen for viruses and bacterial toxins.
"Recombinant protein production from transgenic plants is challenging, not just from the molecular biology aspect of creating high expression plant lines, but also from the engineering aspect of recovering and purifying the proteins economically -- the importance of which cannot be overlooked," Zhang said.
Recombinant proteins are proteins expressed by a host other than their native hosts. For example, if the gene for human growth hormone is inserted into the genetic code of yeast (gene recombination), then the corresponding protein expressed in the yeast is called recombinant human growth hormone.
Zhang's research starts with introducing the genes of interest into tobacco plants and then developing economical processes for recovering and purifying the expressed proteins. Relaxin, one of the proteins his team is studying, could potentially benefit patients with asthma, hay fever, and even cardiovascular disease.