Mimicking living cells: Synthesizing ribosomes

ribosomesSynthetic biology researchers at Northwestern University, working with partners at Harvard Medical School, have for the first time synthesized ribosomes—cell structures responsible for generating all proteins and enzymes in our bodies—from scratch in a test tube.

Others have previously tried to synthesize ribosomes from their constituent parts, but the efforts have yielded poorly functional ribosomes under conditions that do not replicate the environment of a living cell. In addition, attempts to combine ribosome synthesis and assembly in a single process have failed for decades.

Michael C. Jewett, a synthetic biologist at Northwestern, George M. Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues recently took another approach: they mimicked the natural synthesis of a ribosome, allowing natural enzymes of a cell to help facilitate the man-made construction. The technology could lead to the discovery of new antibiotics targeting ribosome assembly; an advanced understanding of how ribosomes form and function; and the creation of tailor-made ribosomes to produce new proteins with exotic functions that would be difficult, if not impossible, to make in living organisms.

“We can mimic nature and create ribosomes the way nature has evolved to do it, where all the processes are co-activated at the same time,” said Jewett, who led the research along with Church. “Our approach is a one-pot synthesis scheme in which we toss genes encoding ribosomal RNA, natural ribosomal proteins, and additional enzymes of an E. coli cell together in a test tube, and this leads to the construction of a ribosome.” Via Mimicking living cells: Synthesizing ribosomes.

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