Though it may look like a psychologist's inkblot test, this image depicts part of a ribosome, a biological machine that makes proteins. Each dot represents an individual atom. Scientists have developed software to visualize this and other large molecular machines, giving way to three-dimensional moving models. To create this 3-D image of the ribosome, researchers used their software to process data from electron microscopes, which shoot electrons through samples. Then they fed the output—thousands of speckled pictures at the nanoscale level—plus all the other chemical, biological and structural information they had, into data-modeling software. After the computers combined everything, the scientists had reconstructed a 3-D model. In this video simulation, a ribosome adds amino acids to a peptide chain. The end result is a protein. Proteins are involved in virtually every cellular process, making their structures relevant to how medicines work. Such three-dimensional modeling allows researchers to better understand not only proteins' shapes, but how they're made and how they interact with other molecules. Together, this knowledge could possibly point the way to more efficient drug development. Read more...
Featured in the July 19, 2012, issue of Biomedical Beat.