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Sep 09, 2015
Understanding the functional and structural consequences of site-specific protein phosphorylation has remained limited by our inability to produce phosphoproteins at high yields. Here we address this limitation by developing a cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) platform that employs crude extracts from a genomically recoded strain of Escherichia coli for site-specific, co-translational incorporation of phosphoserine into proteins. We apply this system to the robust production of up to milligram quantities of human MEK1 kinase. Then, we recapitulate a physiological signalling cascade in vitro to evaluate the contributions of site-specific phosphorylation of mono- and doubly phosphorylated forms on MEK1 activity. We discover that only one phosphorylation event is necessary and sufficient for MEK1 activity. Our work sets the stage for using CFPS as a rapid high-throughput technology platform for direct expression of programmable phosphoproteins containing multiple phosphorylated residues. This work will facilitate study of phosphorylation-dependent structure-function relationships, kinase signalling networks and kinase inhibitor drugs.