1 Recombinant Antibody Technology Ltd., Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge, United Kingdom.2 Ligand Pharmaceuticals, San Diego, CA.
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Techniques to obtain large quantities of antigen-specific monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) were first established in the 1970s when Georges Köhler and César Milstein immortalized antibody-producing mouse B-lymphocytes by fusion with myeloma cells (http://www.whatisbiotechnology.org/exhibitions/milstein). Combined with the expression of human antibodies in transgenic animals, this technique allowed upon immunization the generation of highly specific fully human mAbs for therapeutic applications. Apart from being extremely beneficial, mAbs are a huge success commercially. However, despite cell fusion generating many useful mAbs questions have been asked about which types of cells are prone to fuse and whether other methods may identify a wider range of binders. The discovery that expression libraries, using Escherichia coli or yeast, produced different specificities was intriguing and more recently Next-Generation Sequencing has identified wide-ranging usage with highly diverse and unique repertoires. Another strategy is the combination of flow cytometry sorting of antigen-binding B lymphocytes and single-cell reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction followed by reexpression, which has identified many high-affinity mAbs.