SANTA CRUZ, CA--The workings of a tiny molecular machine crucial to all forms of life are emerging from highly detailed new images obtained by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In a paper published by the journal Science on March 30, the researchers describe the structure of the ribosome, a complex particle just one millionth of an inch in diameter, in sufficient detail to begin to understand how it works.
"This allows us to see what all the key parts are and how they interact," said Harry Noller, Sinsheimer Professor of Molecular Biology and head of the group that obtained the new images.
Ribosomes are the protein factories of all living cells. They hold the equipment necessary to read the genetic code and translate it into specific protein structures. Inside every cell, tens of thousands of ribosomes churn out proteins with mind-boggling speed and precision. They are ancient structures that show little variation among different forms of life. Most research has focused on bacterial ribosomes, which are composed of three different RNA molecules and more than 50 different proteins arranged in two major subunits.
One of the most striking features of ribosomes is that the components that carry out protein synthesis are made of RNA, a type of molecule similar in structure to DNA. In contrast, the enzymes that catalyze most of the chemical reactions necessary for life are proteins. The central role of RNA in the function of the ribosome is an idea long championed by Noller and others, but only recently confirmed by a series of landmark studies by Noller's group at UC Santa Cruz and by other researchers, including Peter Moore and Thomas Steitz of Yale University. In April, the three researchers will share the prestigious Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science in recognition of this important discovery. The new paper provides further confirmation that ribosomal RNA is the active compon
Contact: Tim Stephens
University of California - Santa Cruz