2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: the Structure and Function of the Ribosome

Posted on October 7, 2009  Comments (1)

graphic image of the components of a cellCross section of a cell by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. A ribosome is about 25 nanometters (a millionth of a millimeter) in size. A cell contains tens of thousands of ribosomes.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2009 awards studies of one of life’s core processes: the ribosome’s translation of DNA information into life. Ribosomes produce proteins, which in turn control the chemistry in all living organisms. As ribosomes are crucial to life, they are also a major target for new antibiotics.

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.

Inside every cell in all organisms, there are DNA molecules. They contain the blueprints for how a human being, a plant or a bacterium, looks and functions. But the DNA molecule is passive. If there was nothing else, there would be no life.

The blueprints become transformed into living matter through the work of ribosomes. Based upon the information in DNA, ribosomes make proteins: oxygen-transporting haemoglobin, antibodies of the immune system, hormones such as insulin, the collagen of the skin, or enzymes that break down sugar. There are tens of thousands of proteins in the body and they all have different forms and functions. They build and control life at the chemical level.

Related: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 20082007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistryposts on chemistrybasic research posts

Details from the Nobel Prize site (which continues to do a great job providing scientific information to the public openly).

The 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is the third in a series of prizes that show how Darwin’s theories actually function at the level of the atom. Images, generated by means of various X-ray techniques, show how the simple DNA code can manifest itself not only as hearing, feeling and taste, or muscles, bone and skin, but also as thoughts and speech.

The trilogy of prizes began with one of the most famous Nobel Prizes of all, that of 1962, when James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins were recognised for their elaboration of an atomic model of the double-stranded DNA molecule. The second prize in the trilogy was awarded in 2006 to Roger D. Kornberg for X-ray structures that explicate how information is copied to the messenger RNA molecule.

The body contains tens of thousands of different proteins that control what happens in the body with an astounding precision. Examples of such proteins are: haemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body; insulin, which controls the sugar level in the blood; antibodies that capture intruding viruses; and keratin, which builds hair and nails.

Ribosomes exist in all cells in all living organisms, from bacteria to human beings. As no living creature can survive without ribosomes, they are the perfect targets for drugs. Many of today’s antibiotics attack the ribosomes of bacteria, but leave those of humans alone.

One Response to “2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: the Structure and Function of the Ribosome”

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