Non-technical summary

The production of proteins using information from genes is the foundation of life. This process, called ‘translation’, takes place in all known life forms.

Ribosomes are machines found inside cells and are responsible for this protein synthesis. Until recently it was thought that all ribosomes were equal. However, new evidence suggests that many differences exist between ribosomes, in terms of both their composition and function, and even within a single organism. These differences are thought to enable groups of ribosomes – called ‘specialised ribosomes’ – to produce proteins from specific genes. This is a new, exciting area of science and the focus of our project, ‘RiboCode’. Our research will unravel the rules that explain how specialised ribosomes act across life.  

The challenge – and how we’ll solve it

Although a few types of ribosome specialisation have already been identified, we know little about how they function. Furthermore, our current understanding of specialised ribosomes is focused on single organisms, not across all forms of life. This is a particularly challenging problem to unravel as it requires expertise in a diverse range of scientific specialisms.

To tackle these issues, our team of scientists will study specialised ribosomes from a diverse group of model organisms and systems: yeast, insects, plants, human stem cells and host cells hijacked by viruses during infection (viruses do not have their own ribosomes). Firstly, our team will explore five known types of ribosome specialisations in detail across these model systems. Secondly, we will analyse data on the evolution of life to predict further candidates of ribosome specialisation. Alongside this work, we will develop novel technologies to understand how ribosomes regulate protein production.

In each case, we will be asking what the common features of these specialised ribosomes are across different organisms, which genes they target and how their structure enables them to do this.

Wider implications

RiboCode has the potential to impact our understanding of several human diseases, including cancers. Furthermore, our work could allow us to modify the composition of ribosomes, for use in future medical, agricultural and biotechnological applications. All the data generated within this project will be made publicly available to ensure the legacy of the project after the end of the grant.