The coupling between the quaternary structure, stability and function of streptavidin makes it difficult to engineer a stable, high affinity monomer for biotechnology applications. For example, the binding pocket of streptavidin tetramer is comprised of residues from multiple subunits, which cannot be replicated in a single domain protein. However, rhizavidin from Rhizobium etli was recently shown to bind biotin with high affinity as a dimer without the hydrophobic tryptophan lid donated by an adjacent subunit. In particular, the binding site of rhizavidin uses residues from a single subunit to interact with bound biotin. We therefore postulated that replacing the binding site residues of streptavidin monomer with corresponding rhizavidin residues would lead to the design of a high affinity monomer useful for biotechnology applications. Here, we report the construction and characterization of a structural monomer, mSA, which combines the streptavidin and rhizavidin sequences to achieve optimized biophysical properties. First, the biotin affinity of mSA (Kd = 2.8 nM) is the highest among nontetrameric streptavidin, allowing sensitive monovalent detection of biotinylated ligands. The monomer also has significantly higher stability (Tm = 59.8°C) and solubility than all other previously engineered monomers to ensure the molecule remains folded and functional during its application. Using fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, we show that mSA binds biotinylated targets as a monomer. We also show that the molecule can be used as a genetic tag to introduce biotin binding capability to a heterologous protein. For example, recombinantly fusing the monomer to a cell surface receptor allows direct labeling and imaging of transfected cells using biotinylated fluorophores. A stable and functional streptavidin monomer, such as mSA, should be a useful reagent for designing novel detection systems based on monovalent biotin interaction. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 57–67. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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