Santa Cruz, CA--Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have taken a huge step toward solving one of the most fundamental and daunting problems of molecular biology by obtaining images of the complete structure of the ribosome, a key component of all living things.
Ribosomes are tiny molecular machines responsible for translating the genetic code and synthesizing proteins. They are the link between the genetic instructions encoded in DNA and the protein molecules that carry out the activities of living cells.
The images obtained by the UCSC researchers show how different parts of the ribosome interact with one another and how the ribosome interacts with certain molecules involved in protein synthesis. Although researchers are eager to obtain even more detailed images of the ribosome in action, these results show that the ultimate goal of understanding exactly how the ribosome works is finally within reach.
"What we have at present are a few snapshots, and ultimately what we would like is a movie of the ribosome in action," said Harry Noller, Sinsheimer Professor of Molecular Biology and head of the group that obtained the new images. Their findings are reported in two papers published in the September 24 issue of the journal Science.
The potential applications of this research cover a broad range, from understanding the origins of life to developing more effective antibiotics, Noller said. Ribosomes are ancient structures that show little variation among different forms of life. Inside every living cell, tens of thousands of ribosomes churn out proteins with mind-boggling speed and precision.
Most research has focused on bacterial ribosomes, which are a bit smaller than those in higher organisms. Even bacterial ribosomes are extraordinarily complex. They are composed of three different RNA molecules and more than 50 different proteins arranged in two major subunits, which join together to form the complete ribosome.