Single-domain antigen-binding fragments of camelid antibodies, known as VHHs or nanobodies, are widely used affinity reagents. However, their production involving animal immunization is time- and resource-intensive. Starting from a sequence dataset of llama VHHs, we designed a novel scaffold, based on conserved framework sequences, suitable for bacterial nanobody expression and synthetic library construction. The consensus scaffold was validated by grafting the CDRs from two known nanobodies. While maintaining their binding properties, the two chimeric nanobodies showed higher levels of expression and solubility in E. coli when compared to the corresponding wild types. A proof-of-concept synthetic combinatorial library, suitable for ribosome display (RD) selection, was obtained by encoding three randomized complementarity determining regions within the consensus framework. The library, made of linear DNA fragments, has an estimated complexity of > 1012 that is three orders of magnitude higher than common phage display libraries. The bacterial expression of several library clones showed a high production of soluble recombinant proteins. The high complexity of the library, confirmed by sequencing of a subset of clones, as well as a preliminary RD selection of a maltose binding protein binder, indicated this approach as a starting point in the construction of synthetic combinatorial libraries to be used as animal-free tools for the low-cost selection of target-specific nanobodies.
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