Ribosomes are the cellular structures responsible for protein synthesis. The word “synthesis” means “to combine things to produce something else.” In this context, protein synthesis means combining different amino acids together to form a protein. Ribosomes join amino acids together in a chain to form a protein (Figure 1). This amino acid chain then folds into a complex 3-dimensional structure. The shape of a protein is what gives the protein its specific function.
When viewed through an electron microscope, free ribosomes appear as either clusters or single tiny dots floating freely in the cytoplasm. Ribosomes are attached to the cytoplasmic side of the endoplasmic reticulum. Electron microscopy has shown that ribosomes consist of two protein subunits, sort of like a hamburger bun. Ribosomes are enzyme complexes that are responsible for protein synthesis (assembling proteins from individual amino acids).
Because protein synthesis is essential for all cells, ribosomes are found in practically every cell, although they are smaller in prokaryotic cells. They are particularly abundant in immature red blood cells for the synthesis of hemoglobin, which functions in the transport of oxygen throughout the body.
Text adapted from: OpenStax, Concepts of Biology. OpenStax CNX. May 18, 2016 http://firstname.lastname@example.org