What is a Ribosome?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Ribosomes are small organelles found in the cells of all life forms. They are quite small, only a few hundred nanometers across, and are composed of ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) and other catalytic proteins. Their main function is to produce a variety of proteins from simple genetic instructions that propagate outwards from the cellular nucleolus in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA). They float in the cytoplasm of a cell or bind to the endoplasmic reticulum, ribbon-like structures found within the cell.

Ribosomes are found inside the mitochondria.
Ribosomes are found inside the mitochondria.

Sometimes, these organelles are referred to as simply RNA. Like DNA, they are long chains of amino acids, but their base pairs are different, and they are usually not as long. Ribosomes play a key part in protein synthesis, the process that generates organic tissue. Genetic instructions for the creation of new proteins come from mRNA. They always have two subunits which interlock and behave as a single entity.

Scientists can create ribosomes in the laboratory.
Scientists can create ribosomes in the laboratory.

The exact type of ribosome found within a cell can vary based on the kind of organism that the cell is a part of. Eukaryotes (organisms with cellular nuclei) have one kind, whereas prokaryotes (unicellular organisms without nuclei) have another. Certain organelles within the cell, chloroplast and mitochondria, have their own distinct version as well. These organelles make up the majority of RNA content within a cell, about 95%.

Cell organelles include mitochondria, lysosomes and ribosomes.
Cell organelles include mitochondria, lysosomes and ribosomes.

In 2001, the entire atomic structure of one ribosome was published in scientific journals, enabling scientists to synthesize it from scratch. This event resulted in considerable controversy and speculation that one day scientists may be able to build living organisms atom by atom.

Ribosomes are found in the cells of all life forms, including plants.
Ribosomes are found in the cells of all life forms, including plants.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

anon348616

Have these synthetic ribosomes actually been put into living beings?

claire24

I remember learning about all of the parts of a cell back in high school -- coloring ribosome pictures and stuff like that.

I don't remember learning about them possibly being able to reproduce on their own at one time though. How interesting!

I am so intrigued by all of the workings of cells. It's fascinating that such tiny things are what make up human beings. It's so interesting!

elizabeth2

That is so crazy that it's now possible to create ribosomes! It's kind of like something you would see on a movie, not real life! What will they be able to do next, build a human being?

I think all of these scientific discoveries are amazing, and I'm sure they help us out a lot. But, to tell you the truth, it all makes me little nervous.

I wonder if the synthetic ribosomes can function in the same way that a natural one does? Have these synthetic ribosomes actually been put into living organisms?

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