Wednesday, December 09, 2009

ribosome memories

In the monthly round-up of German pieces, we have my take on the Nobel prize for ribosome structure and function, why Ardi is neither chimp-like nor human, and how to adopt a chemist.

The nobel prize piece was a bit of a nostalgia trip as I was also working with ribosomes in the early 1990s, collaborating with Knud Nierhaus' group at the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics at Berlin, where Ada Yonath held a visiting professorship at the time. I attended one of the big biannual ribosome meetings in Berlin in 1992 (in the central district that used to be part of the capital of the GDR and in 1992 had more craters than the moon!). I came away with the impression of lots of very bright people feeling their way around in the dark. The crystal structures were really desperately needed, but at that time it was far from clear whether they would ever materialise. Fortunately, around 2000, they did, which is the achievement honoured by this year's Nobel prize in chemistry. And yes, this is chemistry, as the ribosome is nothing but a molecular machine. You can purify the molecular components and assemble a ribosome that has never seen a living cell (and may incorporate synthetic components, or isotope-labelled ones), and it will still work normally. No vital force here, just chemistry.

Anyhow, here are the references:

Adoptieren Sie einen Chemiker, Nachrichten aus der Chemie 57, 1175.

Weder Mensch noch Affe Nachrichten aus der Chemie 57, 1208-1210.

Detailansichten der zellulären Eiweißfabrik, Spektrum der Wissenschaft Nr 12, 16-18.

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