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A colorful image that could lead to better antibiotics

It may look like a tangle of colorful, squiggly lines, but it’s actually a sophisticated molecular machine called a ribosome. A ribosome’s job is to build and assemble proteins, the workhorse compounds that sustain all living things. The image is also a milestone: It’s the first time an atom-by-atom structure of a ribosome has been seen attached to a molecule that controls its motion.

That’s big news if you’re a structural biologist – but there’s another way to look at this image, one that anyone who has suffered a bacterial infection can appreciate. The image is also a roadmap to better treatments, as this particular ribosome is from a bacterium.

The image is the latest advance in the push for more effective antibiotics. Somewhere in its twists and turns could be a weakness that a new antibiotic can target. The goal is to develop new drugs that kill the bacteria that make us sick, while staying one step ahead of their resistance mechanisms, and leaving our own beneficial bacteria alone.

Ultimately, better understanding of bacterial ribosomes will help scientists come up with better ways to interfere with them. Now, with an atomic-scale structure in hand, studying the chemical and molecular forces involved is possible.

The scientists’ work is described in the June 28 issue of the journal Science.

- Amber Harmon
 

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