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Pushing and shoving: A cost factor in protein synthesis

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When cells grow and proliferate, they need to produce large amounts of protein. All this protein is made by ribosomes, therefore rapid growth requires many ribosomes. Because ribosomes are expensive machines for the cell, the cell needs to use them efficiently. In a new study, published in PNAS, a team of researchers from the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and from universities in Canada, Denmark and the United States investigates how the bacterium Escherichia coli solves this problem and shows that its economic strategy for using ribosomes is close to optimal. This strategy couples increases in the ribosome content of a cell to increase in the speed at which they work: Whenever the cell makes more ribosomes, it also makes them work faster? In addition, the study identified the slow diffusion in the cell as limitation for the speed of ribosomes and as a source for making speed increases costly.

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