LA JOLLA, CA October 29, 2010 For Immediate Release A team from The Scripps Research Institute has revealed the first-ever pictures of the formation of cells' "protein factories." In addition to being a major technical feat on its own, the work could open new pathways for development of antibiotics and treatments for diseases tied to errors in ribosome formation. In addition, the techniques developed in the study can now be applied to other complex challenges in the understanding of cellular processes.
Identifying and observing the molecules that form ribosomesthe cellular factories that build the proteins essential for lifehas for decades been a key goal for biologists but one that had seemed nearly unattainable. But the new Scripps Research study, which appears in the October 29, 2010 issue of the journal Science, yielded pictures of the chemical intermediate steps in ribosome creation.
"For me it was a dream experiment," said project leader James Williamson, Ph.D., professor, member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, and dean of graduate and postgraduate studies at Scripps Research, who credits collaborators at the Scripps Research National Resource for Automated Molecular Microscopy (NRAMM) facility for making it possible. "We have great colleagues at Scripps to collaborate with who are willing to try some crazy experiments, and when they work it's just beautiful."
Past studies of the intermediate molecules that combine to form ribosomes and other cellular components have been severely limited by imaging technologies. Electron microscopy has for many years made it possible to create pictures of such tiny molecules, but this typically requires purification of the molecules. To purify, you must first identify, meaning researchers had to infer what the intermediates were ahead of time rather than being able to watch the real process.
"My lab has been working on ribosome assembly intensively for about 15 years,"
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Scripps Research Institute