It’s a great week for RNA biology. Early today, it was announced that the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz, and Ada E. Yonath for their work on the structure and function of ribosomes. For the uninitiated, the ribosome is the central feature of life (moreso than even DNA!), and it is at its core a ribozyme.
As was stated in the abstract of a recent review by Steitz:
The ribosome is a large ribonucleoprotein particle that translates genetic information encoded in mRNA into specific proteins. Its highly conserved active site, the peptidyl-transferase center (PTC), is located on the large (50S) ribosomal subunit and is comprised solely of rRNA, which makes the ribosome the only natural ribozyme with polymerase activity.
From the press release:
This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry awards Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz and Ada E. Yonath for having showed what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level. All three have used a method called X-ray crystallography to map the position for each and every one of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome.
An understanding of the ribosome’s innermost workings is important for a scientific understanding of life. This knowledge can be put to a practical and immediate use; many of today’s antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes. Without functional ribosomes, bacteria cannot survive. This is why ribosomes are such an important target for new antibiotics.
This year’s three Laureates have all generated 3D models that show how different antibiotics bind to the ribosome. These models are now used by scientists in order to develop new antibiotics, directly assisting the saving of lives and decreasing humanity’s suffering.
What a great subject – from the RNA World (at the very dawn of life!) to modern medical microbiology.