Bacterial Protein Synthesis: Definition, Process & Inhibitors

Instructor: Bridgett Payseur

Bridgett has a PhD in microbiology and immunology and teaches college biology.

Bacteria use proteins for many purposes: structure, as enzymes, or for transport. Protein synthesis takes several steps working together. Antibiotics that prevent protein synthesis are used to cure bacterial infections.


You've probably heard the word protein while watching Food Network. On cooking shows, 'protein' refers to meat, like beef, chicken, or fish. While these things do have large amounts of protein, biologists use the word protein in a different way.

A protein is a type of molecule that does most of the work for a cell. Proteins make up muscles, move things around in the cell, make structures like hair and nails, and cause chemical reactions to occur. Without proteins, cells would be able to do very little. Proteins are an essential component of life.

Protein Synthesis

Where do proteins come from, and what are they made of? Proteins are long chains of individual units called amino acids. The amino acids are joined together like beads on a string to make the protein.

The instructions for making proteins are found in DNA. In bacteria, the DNA is found packaged up in the bacterial chromosome of the cell. The DNA instructions are transcribed into RNA. Transcription is a way of taking the information from DNA, and making RNA. RNA acts as a go-between for DNA and proteins. This lets the DNA stay safely in one part of the cell.

The RNA then moves to a part of the cell called a ribosome. Ribosomes are protein-making factories found in all cells, from humans to bacteria. The ribosome will scan down the RNA, like a train going down tracks, adding in amino acids to the protein being produced. When the ribosome reaches the end of the RNA, the protein is released. This process is called translation. In bacteria, transcription and translation are often linked. As a piece of RNA is being made, it immediately gets fed into a ribosome to begin making the actual protein.

Protein translation in the ribosome
Protein Translation

Protein Synthesis Inhibitors

There are some molecules that can stop protein synthesis in bacteria. As mentioned above, there are several stages of protein synthesis that must happen to make a protein.

Many of the medications that we call antibiotics are protein synthesis inhibitors. An antibiotic is something used to either kill bacteria (termed bactericidal), or stop the bacteria from growing (termed bacteriostatic). Tetracycline antibiotics, for example, stops the amino acid from going into the ribosome. If a bacterium can't join amino acids, it certainly can't make proteins. Other classes of antibiotics, like aminoglycosides, prevent the ribosome from being made. Without the factory of the ribosome, proteins can't be produced.

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