Bioprocess Biosyst Eng. 2022 Aug 8:1-17. doi: 10.1007/s00449-022-02754-4. Online ahead of print.
Recombinant hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) molecules, produced in heterologous expression systems, self-assemble into highly homogenous and non-infectious virus-like particles (VLPs) that are under extensive research for biomedical applications. HBcAg production in the methylotrophic yeast P. pastoris has been well documented; however, productivity screening under various residual methanol levels has not been reported for bioreactor processes. HBcAg production under various excess methanol levels of 0.1, 1.0 and 2.0 g L-1 was investigated in this research. Results indicate that, under these particular conditions, the total process and specific protein yields of 876-1308 mg L-1 and 7.9-11.2 mg gDCW-1, respectively, were achieved after 67-75 h of cultivation. Produced HBcAg molecules were efficiently purified and the presence of highly immunogenic, correctly formed and homogenous HBcAg-VLPs with an estimated purity of 90% was confirmed by electron microscopy. The highest reported HBcAg yield of 1308 mg L-1 and 11.2 mg gDCW-1 was achieved under limiting residual methanol concentration, which is about 2.5 times higher than the next highest reported result. A PI-algorithm-based residual methanol concentration feed rate controller was employed to maintain a set residual methanol concentration. Finally, mathematical process models to characterise the vegetative, dead and total cell biomass (Xv, Xd and X), substrate (Glycerol and Methanol) concentration, reactor volume (V), and product (HBcAg) dynamics during cultivation, were identified. A rare attempt to model the residual methanol concentration during induction is also presented.