What looks like a jumble of rubber bands is the ribosome—the protein factory of living cells. Made of long chemical chains of RNA and proteins, the ribosome has two interlocked parts that behave as a single molecular machine. How exactly this machine operates to make proteins, though, has remained a mystery. New snapshots of the machine in motion show that ratchet and swivel movements enable protein synthesis. Since about half of all antibiotics target the ribosome, this understanding could lead to more effective drugs.

Featured in the January 19, 2011, issue of Biomedical Beat.