Biology

Ribosomes: Unlocking the secrets to your cellular protein factories

3D-printed model of a ribosome (photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr)

3D-printed model of a ribosome (photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr)

If I were to say the word ‘protein’, you’d probably think of a juicy steak, or perhaps a muscle-building protein shake. But in our bodies, proteins give us far more than just muscular bulk. They’re the enzymes that carry out cellular reactions — the microscopic sensors that allow us to detect the smell of a rose, or the pain of a burn. They’re the cement that connects our cells together, give our nose cartilage its rigidity and our skin its elasticity. And they serve all of these incredible functions in organisms from the lowly bacterium, to the majestic sequoia, and everything in between.

But proteins, in their myriad forms, could not exist without a complex piece of cellular machinery known as the ribosome. As important as it is, the ribosome — unlike the proteins it makes — is hardly a household name.

A few weeks ago on Up Close, I spoke to Ada Yonath, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 for her pioneering work on the structure of the ribosome. She is now the Director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

 

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