Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Shape and function of riots at the molecular level

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, officer of the MRC molecular biology laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK; Mr. Thomas A. Steitz, lecturer of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA; and Ms. Ada E. Yonath, Weizmann Research Institute, Rehovot, Israel for their achievements 'in studying the structure and function of ribosomes'.

The 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to studies of one of the basic processes of life: the process of transforming information in DNA molecules from ribosomes into real life. Ribosomes are protein factories, playing a chemical control role for all living organisms. Because ribosomes are essential for such life, they become targets for new antibiotics.

This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz and Ada E. Yonath for their achievement in showing the shape and function of ribosomes at the atomic level. All three scientists used X-ray crystallography to map the location of hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome.

Structure of a ribosome of bacteria taken with X-rays. The rRNA molecules are dyed orange, the proteins of the small subunit are blue and the protein is sold in large green (large subunit) units. An antibiotic molecule (red) is attached to a small unit. Scientists study these structures in the hope of creating new, more effective antibiotics in the future. (Photo: © Nobel Foundation)

Inside each cell of any living organism, there are DNA molecules. These molecules contain information that determines the shape and functional characteristics of a person, a plant body, or a bacterium. But DNA is completely passive - if there are no other agents, DNA itself cannot create life.

The above information can only be converted into real life through the operation of ribosomes. Based on the information contained in DNA, ribosomes produce proteins: hemoglobin transporting oxygen, or antibodies in the immune system, or hormones such as insulin, skin collagen, and enzymes that convert sugar into energy for muscle can. There are tens of thousands of different proteins in each organism, they exist in different forms and perform different functions. They form and control life at the chemical level.

Understanding the activity of ribosomes at the smallest level of the body makes an important contribution to a thorough understanding of life. These knowledge will bring immediate and practical benefits; today many antibiotics treat many different diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes. Without functional ribosomes, bacteria cannot survive. That's why ribosomes have become an important target of new antibiotics.

Three winners this year have successfully built a three-dimensional model showing how different types of antibiotics affect ribosomes. Now these models will be used to develop antibiotics, which directly save millions of lives and ease the pain of humanity.