News FocusStructural Biology

The Race to the Ribosome Structure

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Science  24 Sep 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5436, pp. 2048-2051
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5436.2048

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Large and complex, the ribosome--the cell's protein factory--has resisted efforts to decipher its structure for 4 decades, but now four groups have it in their sights, to the excitement of everyone in the field. In the 26 August issue of Nature, independent teams published the structures of the two subparticles that together make up a complete ribosome; a third group has unpublished results on the structure of the smaller subunit. Now on page 2095, a fourth team reports the structure of the complete ribosome. In none of these cases is the resolution good enough to reveal all the atoms in the ribosome. But as pointed out in the commentary on page 2077, researchers can now clearly see the functional centers of the ribosome and can thus better check how their ideas on protein synthesis stack up against the real thing. Together, these results have sparked an intense sprint to create the first truly high-resolution image of the ribosome and its subunits.