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The predominant approach for antibody generation remains animal immunization, which can yield exceptionally selective and potent antibody clones owing to the powerful evolutionary process of somatic hypermutation. However, animal immunization is inherently slow, not always accessible and poorly compatible with many antigens. Here, we describe ‘autonomous hypermutation yeast surface display’ (AHEAD), a synthetic recombinant antibody generation technology that imitates somatic hypermutation inside engineered yeast. By encoding antibody fragments on an error-prone orthogonal DNA replication system, surface-displayed antibody repertoires continuously mutate through simple cycles of yeast culturing and enrichment for antigen binding to produce high-affinity clones in as little as two weeks. We applied AHEAD to generate potent nanobodies against the SARS-CoV-2 S glycoprotein, a G-protein-coupled receptor and other targets, offering a template for streamlined antibody generation at large. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original publication




Journal article


Nature Chemical Biology

Publication Date





1057 - 1064