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Atomic-scale structures of ribosome could help improve antibiotics
Date:5/19/2011

It sounds like hype from a late-night infomercial: It can twist and bend without breaking! And wait, there's more: It could someday help you fend off disease!

But in this case it's true, thanks to scientists from several institutions including the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They derived atomic-scale resolution structures of the cell's protein-making machine, the ribosome, at key stages of its job.

The structures, developed primarily at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source, reveal that the ribosome's ability to rotate an incredible amount without falling apart is due to the never-before-seen springiness of molecular widgets that hold it together.

The structures also provide an atom-by-atom map of the ribosome when it's fully rotated during the final phase of protein synthesis. Many antibiotics target the ribosomes of disease-causing microbes at precisely this stage. The high-resolution structures could allow scientists to develop antibiotics that better target this cellular Achilles' heel, perhaps leading to drugs that are less susceptible to resistance.

"Parts of the ribosome are much more flexible than we previously thought. In addition, now that we have a fully rotated ribosomal structure, scientists may be able to develop new antibiotics that are not as sensitive to ribosomal mutations. This could help mitigate the huge problem of multidrug resistance," says Jamie Cate, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division and an associate professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley.

Cate conducted the research with a team that includes scientists from Cornell University and Duke University. Their research is published in the May 20 issue of the journal Science.

The ribosome works like a protein assembly line. Its smaller subunit moves along messenger RNA, which contributes genetic in
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Contact: Dan Krotz
dakrotz@lbl.gov
510-486-4019
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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