Cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) has emerged as a practical method for producing a broad variety of proteins. In addition, the direct accessibility to the reaction environment makes CFPS particularly suitable as a learning vehicle for fundamental biological concepts. Here, we describe its implementation as a teaching tool for a high school laboratory course. Ninety students in a biotechnology class used CFPS to study the effects of the concentrations of amino acids, cell extract, DNA, and the energy source on accumulation of active super-folder green fluorescent protein. Students estimated product concentrations simply by comparing solution colors to a printed green color gradient. This simple and inexpensive method allows for immediate measurements, and 26 of the 30 groups observed measurable product concentrations within 60 min. These student-generated data were then discussed to illustrate concepts of data analysis such as outliers and standard deviation. We also combined the laboratory experience with a visit to a university campus that included a laboratory tour and a college-style lecture. Our overall objective was to excite the students about the scientific enterprise and to instill a sense of personal relevance and attainability so that these students could realistically consider technical careers.
High schoolCell-free protein synthesis (CFPS)PANOx SPEscherichia colisfGFPGreen fluorescent proteinTranscription–translation