Theses Doctoral

Effect of Protein Charge and Charge Distribution on Protein-Based Complex Coacervates

Kapelner, Rachel A.

Polyelectrolytes of opposite charge in aqueous solution can undergo a liquid-liquid phase separation known as complex coacervation. Complex coacervation of ampholytic proteins with oppositely charged polyelectrolytes is of increasing interest as it results in a protein rich phase that has potential applications in food science, protein therapeutics, protein purification, and biocatalysis. However, many globular proteins do not phase separate when mixed with an oppositely charged polyelectrolyte, and those that do phase separate do so over narrow concentration, pH, and ionic strength ranges. Much of the work that has been done on complex coacervates looks at polymer-polymer systems. While there have been some initial studies showing that proteins can undergo complex coacervation, the major design factor studied to date has been overall protein charge. The tools of genetic engineering, which allow the precise tuning and placement of charge have not been used to more fully understand the design criteria for protein complex coacervation.

In this dissertation, we developed a model protein library based on green fluorescent protein (GFP) to study the impact of protein net charge and charge distribution on protein phase separation with polyelectrolytes. We developed a short, ionic polypeptide sequence (6-18 amino acids) that can drive the liquid-liquid phase separation of globular proteins. We characterize the phase behavior of the protein library with a homopolymer and diblock copolymer of similar chemistry to elucidate how protein design impacts macro- and microphase separation. In these phase characterization studies, differences in the nature of phase separation as well as the salt stability of the protein coacervates with the different polymer species are identified. We finally used this model protein library to study the effects of the protein design and phase separation behavior for coacervate-based applications including intracellular protein delivery, purification, and protein stabilization.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Chemical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Obermeyer, Allie C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 8, 2021