Researchers have now completed the three-dimensional structure of the ribosome from a higher organism. Ribosomes are cellular machines responsible for protein synthesis. Their structure will facilitate the development of drugs against bacteria, fungi or viruses.
The machinery that reads genetic information within a cell and translates it into corresponding proteins, the so-called ribosome, is among the most complex cellular enzymes known in biology. It has been studied for decades. Ten years ago, scientists have solved the first three-dimensional structure of this complex in bacteria. They were awarded with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009.
In higher organisms such as fungi, plants and animals (so-called eukaryotes), the ribosome is even more complex than in bacteria. Researchers at ETH Zurich have now solved the three-dimensional structure of the larger of two ribo-somal subunits of a higher organism, the single-celled ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila. This ribosome is akin to the ones of multi-cellular organisms such as humans.
Towards a better understanding of the ribosomal function
Comparing the ribosomal structures of both, bacteria and higher organisms, will enable scientists to develop novel specific pharmaceutical compounds against pathogens and pests. Among these could be antibiotics and fungicides. Furthermore, the findings could lead to the development of novel antiviral drugs since many viruses need to bind to and manipulate the ribosomes of their host cells in order to replicate.
The newly revealed structure could furthermore help to better understand the initiation of protein synthesis and to gain insights into the evolutionary development of the ribosomes of higher organisms.