Recombinant Protein Expression

Proteins play an important role in infectious diseases. They not only take over central functions in the invasion and replication of pathogens, but also in the defensive reaction of our body or as a drug. For a detailed investigation of proteins, scientists often require them in large amounts and extremely pure state. Read more about how proteins are artificially produced and purified.

Our Research

In the RPEX laboratory

The platform "Recombinant Protein Expression" is organized as a research group and works on the production of ultraclean proteins as a basis for subsequent high-resolution analysis of their molecular structure. For that, the scientists use different microorganisms or cells of complex organisms, on which they transfer the genetic information of the target protein. In the next step, they force the respective system to produce the foreign or recombinant protein.

The four most important production systems the researchers have established are: 

  • the gut bacterium Escherichia coli,
  • the yeast Pichia pastoris,
  • the baculovirus in combination with insect cells and
  • finally several mammalian cell lines.

By using those systems the scientists are able to produce simple proteins as well as proteins with complex modifications or whole protein complexes. In addition to the optimization of recent methods and the development of new production techniques, the researchers further process the proteins and enrich them in high purity.

Since 2007, the research group runs a new cell culture facility for the production of proteins in insect and mammalian cells. The facility harbors several culture systems that can vary from 1.6 to 6 liters of volume. By that, 10 to 50 milligrams of protein arise. Furthermore, a 30-liter bioreactor serves for the purification of multi-protein complexes. It allows the production of protein in pilot scale by using several hundred liters of culture medium, which undergoes a continuous exchange.

Protein Production Network

Transient Protein Expression in HEK293 cells

In cooperation with the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch the HZI researchers founded a protein production network for a large-scale production and purification of protein samples (PSPS, Protein Sample Production Facility) in 2007. This project of the Helmholtz Association supports the structure biologists in Germany by taking the load of protein production off them. In addition, the facility offers trainings on the topic of protein expression in insect and mammalian cells to external scientists.


  • Dr Joop van den Heuvel

    Joop van den Heuvel

    Research Group Leader

    +49 531 6181-7046

    +49 531 6181-7099


Bachelor & Master
Are you interested in a bachelor or master thesis? We are looking forward to your request!

Audio Podcast

  • EHEC-Forschung an der molekularen Basis – Wissenschaft jenseits des Mainstream
    EHEC hat in den letzten Monaten viele Opfer gefordert und ist zu einer zweifelhaften Berühmtheit geworden. Jenseits dieser Prominenz forschen Wissenschaftler am HZI schon seit Jahren an den Mechanismen, mit denen uns diese Bakterien krank machen. Begleiten Sie Jens de Groot in sein Labor und hören Sie zu, wie er Kristalle mit Röntgenstrahlen beschießt...
  • Viel Insulin für wenig Geld – Helmholtz-Wissenschaftler stellen eine neue Produktionsmethode frei ins Internet
    Etwa 285 Millionen Menschen leiden weltweit an Diabetes. Die meisten von ihnen leben in Ländern, in denen das patentgeschützte industrielle Insulin unbezahlbar ist. Doch nun laufen diese Patente aus. Am Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung haben Wissenschaftler nun eine kostengünstige Methode entwickelt, um Insulin herzustellen – und haben sie frei zugänglich ins Internet gestellt. Ursula Rinas erzählt Ihnen, wie sie und ihre Kollegen das geschafft haben – und welche Probleme sie dabei hatten. Hören Sie rein...