Nat Commun 13 (1) 1852 [2022-04-06; online 2022-04-06]
Ribosome mediated mRNA translation is central to life. The cycle of translation, however, has been characterized mostly using reconstituted systems, with only few techniques applicable for studies in the living cell. Here we describe a live-cell ribosome-labeling method, which allows us to characterize the whole processes of finding and translating an mRNA, using single-molecule tracking techniques. We find that more than 90% of both bacterial ribosomal subunits are engaged in translation at any particular time, and that the 30S and 50S ribosomal subunits spend the same average time bound to an mRNA, revealing that 30S re-initiation on poly-cistronic mRNAs is not prevalent in E. coli. Instead, our results are best explained by substantial 70S re-initiation of translation of poly-cistronic mRNAs, which is further corroborated by experiments with translation initiation inhibitors. Finally, we find that a variety of previously described orthogonal ribosomes, with altered anti-Shine-Dalgarno sequences, show significant binding to endogenous mRNAs.