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Ribosome Structure Is Focus of Stetten Symposium, Oct. 18

By Alisa Zapp Machalek

Decades of painstaking research have finally paid off for those studying ribosome structure — and those interested in pushing the limits of crystallographic techniques. Within the last 15 months, four different research groups published crystal structures of all or part of a bacterial ribosome. Leaders of three of these groups will discuss their findings at the 19th DeWitt Stetten, Jr. Symposium, entitled "Revealing the Ribosome" and sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The symposium, which is part of the NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series, will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 18 from 2 to 4 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10.

Ribosomes, often called "protein factories," manufacture every protein in every organism ranging from bacteria to humans. Each ribosome contains several strands of RNA and more than 50 proteins. Bacterial ribosomes are composed of a large (50S) and a small (30S) subunit. This complexity and the ribosome's large size have complicated efforts over the past 40 years to determine its crystal structure.

With a number of bacterial ribosome structures in hand — and higher resolution structures in progress — scientists hope to glean invaluable insights into the protein factories of all organisms. In addition, the studies may lead to clinical applications. Many of today's antibiotics target ribosomes in pathogenic bacteria. A more detailed knowledge of these critical cellular components may help scientists develop new antibiotic drugs or improve existing ones.

Dr. Ada Yonath

The symposium will begin with a talk by Ada E. Yonath, the pioneer of ribosome crystallography. In her presentation, entitled "Decoding the Genetic Information on Ribosomes in Molecular Detail," Yonath will provide a historical background of the field and will discuss her published structure and continuing studies of the 30S ribosomal subunit. Her research project spans two locations — one at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and the other at the Max Planck unit of structural molecular biology at DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) in Hamburg, Germany.

Dr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

Venkatraman "Venki" Ramakrishnan will travel from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, to deliver the next talk, entitled "Insights from the Structure of the 30S Ribosomal Subunit." Last year, Ramakrishnan, then at the University of Utah, led a group that determined this structure and published the work in Nature. In this paper, Ramakrishnan's group identified key portions of the RNA and, using previously determined structures, positioned all seven of the subunit's proteins. Most recently, he published two papers in the Sept. 21 issue of Nature that present the 3 Angstrom structure of the 30S ribosomal subunit and its complex with several antibiotics. These studies provide atomic-level insight into protein synthesis and the antibiotics that block it.

Dr. Peter Moore

To conclude the symposium, Peter B. Moore of Yale University will present a talk entitled "The Complete Atomic Structure of the Large Ribosomal Subunit from Haloarcula marismortui." Moore's most recent publication of this structure, at 2.4 Angstrom resolution in the Aug. 11 issue of Science, gives detailed structural information and provides more evidence for a theory that was initially counterintuitive and controversial — that ribosomal proteins are structural scaffolds, while ribosomal RNA is responsible for ribosomal catalysis.

All three of the speakers are long-time NIGMS grantees, with more than 40 years of combined research grant support.

For more information or for reasonable accommodation, call Hilda Madine at 594-5595.

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