The ribosome produces all of the proteins and many of the peptides present in cells. As a macromolecular complex composed of both RNAs and proteins, it employs a constituent RNA to catalyze the formation of peptide bonds rapidly and with high fidelity. Thus, the ribosome can be argued to represent the key link between the RNA World, in which RNAs were the primary catalysts, and present biological systems in which protein catalysts predominate. In spite of the well-known phylogenetic conservation of rRNAs through evolutionary history, rRNAs can be altered readily when placed under suitable pressure, e.g. in the presence of antibiotics which bind to functionally critical regions of rRNAs. While the structures of rRNAs have been altered intentionally for decades to enable the study of their role(s) in the mechanism of peptide bond formation, it is remarkable that the purposeful alteration of rRNA structure to enable the elaboration of proteins and peptides containing noncanonical amino acids has occurred only recently. In this Perspective, we summarize the history of rRNA modifications, and demonstrate how the intentional modification of 23S rRNA in regions critical for peptide bond formation now enables the direct ribosomal incorporation of d-amino acids, β-amino acids, dipeptides and dipeptidomimetic analogues of the normal proteinogenic l-α-amino acids. While proteins containing metabolically important functional groups such as carbohydrates and phosphate groups are normally elaborated by the post-translational modification of nascent polypeptides, the use of modified ribosomes to produce such polymers directly is also discussed. Finally, we describe the elaboration of such modified proteins both in vitro and in bacterial cells, and suggest how such novel biomaterials may be exploited in future studies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry