Prokaryotic cell-free systems are currently heavily used for the production of protein that can be otherwise challenging to produce in cells. However, historically cell-free systems were used to explore natural phenomena before the advent of genetic modification and transformation technology. Recently, synthetic biology has seen a resurgence of this historical use of cell-free systems as a prototyping tool of synthetic and natural genetic circuits. For these cell-free systems to be effective prototyping tools, an understanding of cell-free system mechanics must be established that is not purely protein-expression driven. Here we discuss the development of E. coli-based cell-free systems, with an emphasis on documenting published extract and energy preparation methods into a uniform format. We also discuss additional considerations when applying cell-free systems to synthetic biology.
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