Yesterday, I stumbled upon a list of someone’s opinion of the “top 10 accidental discoveries.” On the list were at least two drug products (take a guess before you research). Although I’m certain there are bound to be more accidental discoveries, I’m even more certain that most future discoveries will be deliberate, based on detailed knowledge of the systems under study.
For example, recent advances in therapeutic biologics have raised the need for a greater understanding of how the body fights infectious diseases at the most fundamental level. One of the most elusive parts of this understanding is the inner workings of ribosomes, those parts of the cell responsible for producing proteins. Scientists attribute the difference between human and bacterial ribosomes as the reason antibiotic drugs selectively attack the bacteria. Viruses such as hepatitis C and polio use the ribosomes of their human host cells to produce proteins beneficial to the virus.
“Inside the ribosome, antibiotics and viruses are using chemistry to either fight or promote disease,” said Jamie Cate, one of the study co-authors and a University of California, Berkeley, associate professor in chemistry and molecular and cell biology in a university press release.
Cate, who conducted the work with research specialist Wen Zhang and graduate student Jack Dunkle, both co-lead authors of the study, in his lab at UC Berkeley, is then quoted in the University release as asking “But what sort of chemistry? The short answer is that we have a lot still to learn. Once we find out, that knowledge could lead to more effective antibiotics, or new treatments against devastating diseases like hepatitis C. We know what goes in and what comes out of ribosomes, but we’re only beginning to learn about what is going on in between.”
Cate and a team of researchers this week said they have used X ray crystallography to take a peek inside this “black box.” Their technique produced images of nanoscale movements of ribosomes as they interact with transfer RNA (tRNA) and messenger RNA (mRNA). Their research showed these interactions were much more complex, undergoing several steps in their spatial arrangement, than previously thought. Researchers say, however, until further advancements in imaging technologies, only snapshots of the movement are possible.