These beautiful rainbow squiggles, twirls and dots represent the precise three-dimensional structure of the malaria parasite’s ribosome – a critical component of its protein synthesis machinery. And the tiny pink blob (resembling a piece of discreetly discarded chewing gum) is a molecule of the antimalarial drug mefloquine. The drug is a frontline treatment for malaria, yet its mechanism of action was largely unknown. Having solved the atomic structure of the ribosome with the bound drug, scientists were able to observe, for the first time, the drug’s exact interaction site and could thus figure out how it inhibits protein synthesis to kill the parasite. Importantly, this structural map should enable researchers to create improved versions of mefloquine with more potent activity, fewer side effects and with less chance of the parasite developing resistance – a current problem associated with the use of this important drug.
Written by Ruth Williams
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.