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Biologists probe the machinery of cellular protein factories

the bacterium Thermus thermophilus) are made up of three different RNA molecules and more than 50 different proteins.

Noller proposed in the early 1970s that the RNA component was responsible for carrying out the ribosome's key functions. At the time it was considered a "crackpot idea," but subsequent findings by Noller and others proved he was right.

"It was a completely heterodox view when we first proposed it, but it is now the accepted paradigm," said Noller, who directs the Center for Molecular Biology of RNA at UCSC. "Our latest results confirm that the ribosomal RNA is really the key to ribosome function. The proteins are also involved, but more peripherally," he said.

To make a new protein, the genetic instructions are first copied from the DNA sequence of the gene into a messenger RNA molecule. The ribosome then reads the genetic code from the messenger RNA and translates it into the structure of a protein.

Proteins are linear molecules that fold into complex three-dimensional shapes to carry out their functions. They are made from amino acid building blocks, and the sequence of amino acids determines the protein's structure. Amino acids are carried to the ribosome by transfer RNA molecules. On the ribosome, the transfer RNAs recognize specific sequences of genetic code on the messenger RNA, and the amino acids are then joined together in the proper order.

The images from Noller's group not only show the complete ribosome, they show it with a messenger RNA and two full-length transfer RNAs bound to it. "We can now see the details of most of the interactions between the ribosome, the messenger RNA, and the transfer RNAs," Noller said.

The results provide a snapshot of the molecular machine in action. By comparing his images with those obtained by other groups that have caught the ribosome or its subunits in different positions, Noller is finding clues to the molecular motions with which the ribosome
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Source:University of California - Santa Cruz


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