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Landmark progress in understanding ribosome structure-- research done at,,Brookhaven Lab's light source

of ribosomes, and, to protect them from radiation damage, froze them to -173°C. Crystals provided the researchers with molecules that are arranged in a regularly repeated pattern for their studies. An intense x-ray beam from the Light Source penetrated the crystal, resulting in tens of thousands of diffraction spots on a computerized imaging detector. The researchers measured the position and intensity of each spot, and then mathematically calculated the electron density of the sample. From these data, they were able to build a molecular model of the ribosomal structure.

Specifically, the ribosome translates the genetic code of nucleic acids known as messenger RNAs into chains of amino acids that make up proteins. The 30S ribosomal subunit recognizes messenger RNA and insures that the sequence of information in the RNA is correctly copied into a protein. The 50S subunit performs the chemical steps involved in linking together amino acids to form proteins. The 30S and 50S subunits work together to generate proteins in all living cells.

Both Nature papers report on structural components at a resolution of five angstroms, a measurement that is about one ten-thousandth the thickness of a human hair. While ribosomes make proteins, they are also composed of proteins and RNA themselves, and, with this resolution, the researchers were able to differentiate a protein from the ribosomal complex. In addition, the surface topology of both subunits is revealed in detail, showing the way the two subunits fit together to form a whole, functional 70S ribosome complex.

The authors of paper describing the ribosome 30S subunit are William M. Clemons, Jr., Joanna L.C. May, Brian T. Wimberly, and John P. McCutcheon from the University of Utah and Venki Ramakrishnan from the University of Utah and the Medical Research Council, Cambridge, England; and Malcolm Capel, from Brookhaven National Laboratory. The research on the large ribosomal 50S subunit is reported b
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Contact: Diane Greenberg
greenb@bnl.gov
516-344-2347
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
25-Aug-1999


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