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Deep Sea Microbes Shed Light on Human Biology

Scientists determine structure of enzymes involved in making ribosomes

THURSDAY, Sept. 10, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- By studying microbes that live near the boiling thermal vents of the deep sea, scientists have identified the structure of an RNA and protein enzyme that is key to making human ribosomes, new research shows.

Ribosomes, a component of all cells that have a nucleus, are responsible for translating the information encoded in DNA into proteins that are crucial for biological processes.

In their study, researchers from Yale University studied Methanocaldococcus jannaschii, a microbe considered an "extremophile" because it thrives in harsh conditions, including in Antarctic ice and at the bottom of the ocean.

Using single-particle electron microscopy, the study authors described the structure of "box C/D small ribonucleoproteins," which are essential to making ribosomes.

The findings appear in the Sept. 11 issue of Science.

"It looks like a Wheat Thin with feet," Dr. Susan Baserga, an associate professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, genetics and therapeutic radiology, said in a university news release. "When you can discern structure, you can often figure out function."

The RNA-protein enzymes exist in organisms ranging from yeast to people, and even in microbes that are part of the domain Archaea, which often live in extreme environments, according to the news release.

Ribosomal defects have been implicated in diseases, including cancer and rare genetic disorders that cause infertility and childhood cirrhosis.

Identifying the structure of this RNA-protein enzyme is a step toward a better understanding of the creation of human ribosomes, the researchers explained.

More information

The University of California Museum of Paleontology has more on the domain Archaea.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Sept. 10, 2009
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