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Ribosome Research: Historical Background

Alfred Tissières


Here I shall present a short, necessarily incomplete, and somewhat personal account of the history of ribosome research. I shall emphasize the steps which took place in the early period and only briefly mention some of the more recent developments leading to the present state of the work, for, in most cases, these will be discussed later in this book.

The discovery of ribosomes was preceded by two related observations made in the thirties. First, it was found that the bulk of the RNA is located in the cytoplasm, and second, a relation was established between the amount of RNA and the ability of a cell to synthesize proteins. I shall start by discussing these two points.

Bulk of RNA Is Present in Cytoplasm
Based on his own observations and those by Jorpes (1928), that in the course of spermatogenesis the size of the cytoplasm decreases simultaneously with the amount of RNA in the cell, Brachet (1933) came to the conclusion that very likely RNA was mainly located in the cytoplasm. But the first direct support of this hypothesis was made on plant material several years later. A method had been worked out with rye embryos to achieve the separation of the nuclei from the cytoplasm, and it was shown that DNA was found exclusively in nuclei (Feulgen, Behrens and Mahidiassen 1937) and that a fraction consisting of purified cytoplasm contained most of the RNA (Behrens 1938). Until that time, the belief had been that RNA was present...

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