Observing the cell's protein factories during self-assembly

June 14, 2018, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Snapshot capturing a moment in the assembly of a bacterial 50S subunit. At this stage in the process, similarities between the precursors and mature 50S subunits are already at above 95 percent. Credit: Charité/Nikolay

Berlin-based researchers have produced snapshots of cellular ribosomes. Their findings could set us on the path towards a new class of antibiotics. The study—a basic science study conducted by researchers from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics—has been published in Molecular Cell.

Ribosomes are the "protein factories" of the cell, and are composed of two units: a larger 50S subunit, and a smaller 30S subunit. The 50S subunit in turn comprises 33 proteins and two ribonucleic acid molecules. The aim of the study was to obtain detailed information about the way in which these molecules form 50S subunits in bacteria. In a process known as 'in vitro reconstitution', the individual components were first purified and then mixed together in the laboratory. The researchers then observed how the 50S subunit assembled from this mixture. Using 3-D cryo-electron microscopy, they were able to produce high-resolution snapshots of individual stages of the 50S subunit's assembly and maturation. This allowed them to identify the individual steps involved in its development on a molecular level.

Explaining the significance of this study, Dr. Rainer Nikolay, of Charité's Institute of Medical Physics and Biophysics, says, "These results do not simply provide us with important insights into one of the essential processes taking part inside the cell. They also provide us with information on potential targets for new antibacterial drugs." These could potentially inhibit ribosome assembly, thereby paralyzing the bacterium's ability to synthesize proteins; these drugs could therefore be used to inhibit all bacterial growth.

Dr. Nikolay plans to conduct additional research to test whether the process of 50S subunit assembly inside the living cell is the same as that observed outside the cell. He says, "Much of the information available in the literature suggests that 50S assembly in vivo follows a very similar course to that observed in vitro. To test this assumption, we are currently developing methods capable of analyzing the structure of 50S ribosomal subunit precursors, which we will obtain directly from ."

Explore further: Structural biology: Until the last cut

More information: Rainer Nikolay et al. Structural Visualization of the Formation and Activation of the 50S Ribosomal Subunit during In Vitro Reconstitution, Molecular Cell (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2018.05.003

Related Stories

Structural biology: Until the last cut

June 13, 2018

Ribosomes are the cell's protein factories. Researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now structurally characterized late stages in the assembly of the human small ribosomal subunit, yielding detailed ...

Building the machinery that makes proteins

March 12, 2018

All of the proteins necessary for life are made by giant molecular machines called ribosomes. A ribosome, in turn, is built from proteins and ribosomal RNAs stitched together with immaculate precision.

Finding form by folding

January 8, 2018

Ribosomes are the organelles responsible for protein synthesis in cells. LMU researchers have now dissected early steps in their assembly and visualized how their RNA components fold correctly and find their places in the ...

Making sure antibiotics work as they should

October 8, 2014

Researchers at ETH Zurich are decoding the structure of the large ribosomal subunit of the mitochondria at an atomic level, thereby providing insight into the molecular architecture of this ribosome with implications for ...

Recommended for you

How do horses read human emotional cues?

June 21, 2018

Scientists have demonstrated for the first time that horses integrate human facial expressions and voice tones to perceive human emotion, regardless of whether the person is familiar or not.

Fish's use of electricity might shed light on human illnesses

June 21, 2018

Deep in the night in muddy African rivers, a fish uses electrical charges to sense the world around it and communicate with other members of its species. Signaling in electrical spurts that last only a few tenths of a thousandth ...

Not junk: 'Jumping gene' is critical for early embryo

June 21, 2018

A so-called "jumping gene" that researchers long considered either genetic junk or a pernicious parasite is actually a critical regulator of the first stages of embryonic development, according to a new study in mice led ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.