Ribosomes comprise a complex macromolecular machine, found within all living cells, that serves as the site of biological protein synthesis (translation). Ribosomes link amino acids together in the order specified by messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules. Ribosomes consist of two major components: the small ribosomal subunits, which read the mRNA, and the large subunits, which join amino acids to form a polypeptide chain. Each subunit consists of one or more ribosomal RNA (rRNA) molecules and a variety of ribosomal proteins (r-protein or rProtein). The ribosomes and associated molecules are also known as the translational apparatus.

The sequence of DNA, which encodes the sequence of the amino acids in a protein, is copied into a messenger RNA chain. It may be copied many times into RNA chains. Ribosomes can bind to a messenger RNA chain and use its sequence for determining the correct sequence of amino acids for generating a given protein. Amino acids are selected and collected and carried to the ribosome by transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules, which enter one part of the ribosome and bind to the messenger RNA chain. It is during this binding that the correct translation of nucleic acid sequence to amino acid sequence occurs. For each coding triplet in the messenger RNA there is a distinct transfer RNA that matches and which carries the correct amino acid for that coding triplet. The attached amino acids are then linked together by another part of the ribosome. Once the protein is produced, it can then fold to produce a specific functional three-dimensional structure although during synthesis some proteins start folding into their correct form.

A ribosome is made from complexes of RNAs and proteins and is therefore a ribonucleoprotein. Each ribosome is divided into two subunits:

a smaller subunit which binds to a larger subunit and the mRNA pattern, and

a larger subunit which binds to the tRNA, the amino acids, and the smaller subunit.

When a ribosome finishes reading an mRNA molecule, these two subunits split apart. Ribosomes are ribozymes, because the catalytic peptidyl transferase activity that links amino acids together is performed by the ribosomal RNA. Ribosomes are often associated with the intracellular membranes that make up the rough endoplasmic reticulum.

Ribosomes from bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes in the three-domain system, resemble each other to a remarkable degree, evidence of a common origin. They differ in their size, sequence, structure, and the ratio of protein to RNA. The differences in structure allow some antibiotics to kill bacteria by inhibiting their ribosomes, while leaving human ribosomes unaffected. In bacteria and archaea, more than one ribosome may move along a single mRNA chain at one time, each "reading" its sequence and producing a corresponding protein molecule.

The mitochondrial ribosomes of eukaryotic cells, are produced from mitochondrial genes, and functionally resemble many features of those in bacteria, reflecting the likely evolutionary origin of mitochondria

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