Aminoff prize 2012
March 31, 2012
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded The Gregori Aminoff Prize in crystallography 2012 to Marat Yusupov and Gulnara Yusupova (IGBMC) and Harry F. Noller (University of California Santa Cruz, USA) “for their crystallographic studies on ribosomes, translators of the code of life”.
If the DNA is the plans of life then the ribosome is the assembly factory. Every cell contains ribosomes, in which the instructions recorded in the DNA are decoded into functioning proteins, building block by building block. Marat Yusupov, Gulnara Yusupova and Harry F. Noller have been awarded the Gregori Aminoff Prize in crystallography 2012, for their atomic level mapping of the ribosome structure, something that provides a basis for the development of targeted antibiotics.
Ribosomes are long chains of RNA and proteins interlaced together in complicated foldings. They are fragile complexes of different size entities, which only assemble when a new protein has to be put together. The ribosomes also change shape all the time to make sure only the proper building block, i.e. amino acid, can attach to the protein chain to be. All this has been known since the 1970’s. However, the detailed structure of the ribosomes has been frustratingly difficult to investigate.
Gulnara Yusupova and Marat Yusupov and collaborators in the former Soviet Union managed to crystallize the ribosomes from bacteria in the late 1980’s, but it took years of effort to achieve eventual success. The Yusupov couple started collaborating with the doyen of ribosome biochemistry, Harry F. Noller in the United States to produce clean crystals of whole ribosomes, which was successful in 2001.
Elucidate the structure of ribosomes from cells with a cell nucleus like (for example, human cells) took more time. However, in 2010 Yusupov and Yusupova managed to map the long awaited entire structure of the giant apparatus of the protein synthesis.
As we now have a detailed knowledge of the ribosome structure of both bacteria and humans, we can find ways to knock out the protein production of bacteria without affecting the human production. This is an important first step towards understanding and producing targeted antibiotics.