|Structure and shape of the E.coli 70S ribosome. |
A ribosome is composed of 57 parts; 54 of which are themselves proteins. The remaining 3 parts are strands of RNA. Working together, these parts move across a strand of messenger RNA and assemble the amino acids that compose a protein based on the RNA sequence.
Now, for the first time, ribosomes have been synthesized in vitro; in conditions that mimic the natural process of ribosome assembly. The details of this process are described in the recently published Molecular Systems Biology article entitled: 'In vitro integration of ribosomal RNA synthesis, ribosome assembly, and translation'. This article describes the collaborative efforts between scientists at Northwestern University and Harvard Medical School. The authors describe an integrated synthesis, assembly and translation approach which they call iSAT. This approach; which used synthetic ribosomal RNA and native E. coli protein resulted in a functional ribosome based on the ability to translate messenger RNA into an active protein.
The authors believe that iSAT is just the first step. It is their hope that they will be able to eventually create a fully synthetic ribosome. However, even with the current ribosome they hope to better understand ribosomal function which could lead to new antibiotics and allow us to make ribosomes with altered capabilities.