Supercomputer used to solve anthrax's ribosomal mystery

Theoretical biologists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have used a supercomputer to help a team of international scientists solve another ribosomal mystery that may aid in combating engineered strains of anthrax and the plague.

The study, published in the journal Nature, revolves around ribosomes that could be the key to developing nanofactories that are capable of producing biomolecules and polymers, according to

In addition to helping fight the effects of biological weapons, the research could also be used to develop antibiotics for use against drug resistant superbugs, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections that are found in many U.S. hospitals.

The paper, titled “Head Swivel on the Ribosome Facilitates Translocation via Intra-subunit tRNA Hybrid Sites,” details, for the first time, how a complicated swivel movement that takes place in a bacterial ribosome facilitates the creation of proteins, reports.

It was believed that two sub-units of a ribosome ratchet and unratchet during protein synthesis to allow the introduction of helper chemicals, known as transfer RNAs, that, in turn, manufacture new chains of protein molecules. The researchers found that movement of the ribosome as whole occurs during a new kind of motion, a “head swivel,” not a ratchet.

In the paper, the scientists explain how an antibiotic was used to inhibit the full swivel and ratchet movements of a ribosome from a bacterium called Thermus Thermophilus, which survives in acidic environments, according to During testing, the ribosomes were examined after being flash frozen in mid-ratchet and mid-swivel. Previously, scientists were only able to view the beginning or end states of the process.

The new model holds promise that researchers will, in the future, be able to develop more effective antibiotics that directly target the ribosomal processes of harmful organisms.