Friday, October 16, 2009

Calling All Science Writers!

The pathway of information flow runs from DNA to RNA to proteins. There are a bunch of fundamentally important steps in this pathway including transcription, RNA processing, and translation.

Translation, or protein synthesis, is the process that utilizes the information in Messenger RNA (mRNA) to build a polypeptide (protein). Over the past few decades this process has been worked out in hundreds of labs all around the world but recent progress has been quite remarkable.

One of the key players in translation is the ribosome. (The others are mRNA, tRNAs and translation factors.) The ribosome and the other translation components form a complex molecular machine. The ribosome itself is complex, consisting of several RNA molecules (ribosomal RNAs) and several dozen proteins.

Thanks to the work of Harry Noller, we now know that one of these ribosomal RNAs is the molecule that actually catalyzes the formation of a peptide bond. The basic activity in proteins synthesis doesn't require a protein enzyme, it's an RNA molecule that does the job.

Thanks to this year's Nobel Laureates, and Harry Noller, we now know the structure of the ribosome at the molecular level and we know where the tRNAs and the translation factors bind.

We've known about these sites—the P and A sites are the most important—for some time but now we have a real picture of what they look like in the actual molecule. And it's led to some significant advances in our understanding of this important biological process.

This is basic science. It's not some speculative discovery that may or may not be a breakthrough and may or may not cure cancer (probably not). This is the stuff that goes into the textbooks. This is what science is all about.

The 2009 Nobel Prizes provide science writers with an excellent opportunity to highlight some discoveries that are really important in biology. You'd think that science writers would be all over this.

Where are they when the work is worth writing about? Are they going to be as silent about this as they were about the Nobel Prize for transcription in 2006?

See also: All Your Ribosomes Belong to Us.


  1. I concur! I am so happy for the ribosome, it's like the kid in the 'group project' who does all the work, and finally gets credit for it! This does need to be written about: it will help clear the misunderstandings you highlighted related to the so-called 'Central Dogma of Molecular Biology'.

  2. Theyre all writing about how Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is caused by a retrovirus.

    Even though there is nothing in the much-touted paper to suggest that.