Department of Cell and Molecular Biology

Popular Science Presentation

Protein Synthesis & Protein Folding : Mechanisms, Diseases and Biotechnology

The Ribosome is the protein factory of the cell, which translates genetic codes from messenger RNA (mRNA) to proteins. Protein synthesis also requires many translation factors, which play important roles in the process.  In our lab, we are trying to understand how the ribosome and the translation factors work, how they carry out the different stages of protein synthesis. Although we perform most of the experiments in the test tube using advanced techniques of biochemistry and molecular biology, these give us some idea about the protein synthesis process in the cell.  Moreover, these allow us to understand how antibiotics, which we often get prescribed from doctors for treating bacterial infections, work to block protein synthesis in bacterial cells. These studies are particularly important for fighting drug-resistant bacteria causing severe diseases such as tuberculosis. In the future, these studies may also aid in designing new drugs against pathogenic microbes. In addition, using individual components of the bacterial protein synthesis machinery, we can now produce various peptides and proteins in the test tube, which is the first step towards constructing an artificial cell.

The peptide chains need to fold properly to gain their function. We have demonstrated that ribosomes can assist in protein folding by using its RNA of the large subunit. Recently, we have found that the protein folding activity of the ribosome can be linked to prion diseases, which include scrapie, mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt–Jacob disease etc. Prion proteins are infectious proteins, which when misfolded can form amyloid fibrils and can damage brain function. We are now studying the role of the ribosomal RNA in folding of prion proteins, which will allow us to develop strategies to combat these fatal diseases.