One of the oldest known molecules, the ribosome, creates proteins based on a copy of the genetic code found in the genome, known as mRNA. Scientists have believed that the ribosome performed the same type of work with all mRNA, like a standardized assembly line that it did not regulate on its own. However, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have discovered this is not the case.

Their findings are published in the journal Developmental Cell in an article entitled “Ribosomal RNA 2′-O-methylation dynamics impact cell fate decisions.”

“It has long been known that there are different types of ribosomes. But it has been assumed that no matter what mRNA you give the ribosome, it will produce a protein. But our results suggest that different types of ribosomes produce specific proteins,” says Anders H. Lund, professor at the Biotech Research and Innovation Center at the University of Copenhagen.

Anders H. Lund and his colleagues found that cancer cells have different ribosomes compared to other cells, and that was the basis for the new discovery.

“This led us to speculate why this is the case. Perhaps cancer cells need specific proteins to grow, form metastases, or undergo other types of development? This made us consider why various types of ribosomes exist and how they are vital for the body’s development,” says Anders H. Lund.

The study was carried out in both mouse brains and human stem cells. The researchers began by examining brains from mice from the fetal stage and onwards. They found that the brain’s ribosomes changed throughout development, suggesting that ribosomal changes are necessary for regular development.

To investigate whether the same applies to humans, the researchers used human stem cells. “We induced the cells to differentiate into various cell types and tracked them during development. We then examined whether the ribosomes had changed, and indeed, we observed that they did,” said Lund.

Their results may shed a light on the biological processes that are crucial for the development of specific cell types. This knowledge could potentially be used in regenerative medicine, Lund explained.

“It all started when we observed that ribosomes looked different in cancer cells compared to healthy cells. When ribosomes are different, we may be able to develop a substance that can bind to and possibly inhibit, or paralyze, some of the ribosomes that are abundant in cancer cells. This could offer new treatment possibilities,” concluded Lund.

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