Medical Definition of RNA, ribosomal

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

RNA, ribosomal: A molecular component of a ribosome, the cell's essential protein factory. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) fabricates polypeptides (assemblies of amino acids that make up proteins).

A tiny particulate structure located in the cytoplasm of the cell (outside the nucleus), the ribosome is composed of two subunits, one larger than the other. Both subunits were believed to contain both rRNA and protein but this is not the full story. Molecular maps of the ribosome have revealed startling details about its structure that boost support for an "RNA world" as the model for the origin of life on Earth. Although the ribosome consists of both ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and protein, the "active site" on the large unit of the ribosome -- the site of the chemical reaction that changes genetic information into the beginnings of a protein -- contains only rRNA. This suggests that the ribosome is actually a ribozyme, an RNA molecule that can catalyze its chemical reactions. RNA's starring role in the ribosome may therefore support the idea that life on Earth began with RNA.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018