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noun, plural: ribosomes

(Science: cell biology)

(1) A minute particle composed of protein and ribonucleic acid (RNA) that serves as the site of protein synthesis.

(2) A molecule consisting of two subunits that fit together and work as one to build proteins according to the genetic sequence held within the messenger RNA (mRNA). Using the mRNA as a template, the ribosome traverses each codon, pairing it with the appropriate amino acid. This is done through interacting with transfer RNA (tRNA) containing a complementary anticodon on one end and the appropriate amino acid on the other.

(3) A sphere-shaped structure found in the cytoplasm of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Some ribosomes occur freely in the cytosol whereas others are attached to the nuclear membrane or to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) giving the latter a rough appearance, hence, the name rough ER or rER.


Ribosomes of prokaryotes (e.g. bacteria) are smaller than most of the ribosomes of eukaryotes (e.g. plants and animals). However, the plastids and mitochondria in eukaryotes have smaller ribosomes similar to those in prokaryotes – a possible indication of the evolutionary origin of these organelles.

In mid-1950s, ribosomes were first observed as dense particles or granules by George Palade with his electron microscope. In 1958, the term ribosome was proposed by the scientist, Richard B. Roberts.

Word origin: from ribonucleic acid and Greek: soma, meaning body.

Related forms: ribosomal (adjective).
Related terms: ribosome binding site, ribosome-lamella complex.

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