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This Image Could Lead to Better Antibiotics

This may look like a tangle of squiggly lines, but you’re actually looking at a molecular machine called a ribosome. Its job is to translate DNA sequences into proteins, the workhorse compounds that sustain you and all living things.

The image is also a milestone. It’s the first time the atom-by-atom structure of the ribosome has been seen as it’s attached to a molecule that controls its motion. That’s big news if you’re a structural biologist.

But there’s another way to look at this image, one that anyone who’s suffered a bacterial infection can appreciate. The image is also a roadmap to better antibiotics. That’s because this particular ribosome is from a bacterium. And somewhere in its twists and turns could be a weakness that a new antibiotic can target.

“We’re in an arms race with the resistance mechanisms of bacteria,” says Jamie Cate, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and a professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at UC Berkeley.

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