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New and sharper X-rays of cell's ribosome could lead to better antibiotics

Berkeley -- A new, sharper picture of the nano-machine that translates our genetic program into proteins promises to help researchers explain how some types of antibiotics work and could lead to the design of better ones.

The high-resolution snapshots of the bacterial ribosome were captured by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) with the lab's Advanced Light Source, which generates intense beams of X-rays that can reveal unprecedented structural detail of such large and complex molecules.

The new, high-resolution data on the intact ribosome allows researchers to build more detailed and more realistic models of the ribosome that until now were impossible with the "fuzzy pictures" available.

While sharp images of the two main pieces of the ribosome have already provided great insight into how specific antibiotics work, many antibiotics, such as the aminoglycosides, only interfere with the entire, fully assembled molecular machine.

"Many antibiotics target only the intact machine, disrupting messenger RNA decoding or movement," said lead author Jamie Cate, assistant professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and a staff scientist in the Physical Biosciences Division at LBNL. "We are now in a position to look at some of these drugs and discover things that haven't been known before."

Cate, a member of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3) at UC Berkeley, and his colleagues report the detailed structure of the ribosome from Escherichia coli, the common intestinal bacteria, in the Nov. 4 issue of Science.

The ribosome, about 21 to 25 nanometers across, is the original nanomachine, taking genetic information relayed by messenger RNA, decoding it and spitting out proteins. Ribosomes are dispersed in the hundreds of thousands throughout the cell, and in some highly active cells, ribosomes are responsible
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
3-Nov-2005


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