6.5 Translation

The synthesis of proteins is one of a cell’s most energy-consuming metabolic processes. In turn, proteins account for more mass than any other component of living organisms (with the exception of water), and proteins perform a wide variety of the functions of a cell. The process of translation, or protein synthesis, involves decoding an mRNA message into a polypeptide product. Amino acids are covalently strung together in lengths ranging from approximately 50 amino acids to more than 1,000.

The Protein Synthesis Machinery

In addition to the mRNA template, many other molecules contribute to the process of translation. However, the general structures and functions of the protein synthesis machinery are comparable from bacteria to human cells. Translation requires the input of an mRNA template, ribosomes, tRNAs, and various enzymatic factors (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The protein synthesis machinery includes the large and small subunits of the ribosome, mRNA, and tRNA. (credit: modification of work by NIGMS, NIH)

Ribosomes are the part of the cell which reads the information in the mRNA molecule and joins amino acids together in the correct order. In E. coli, there are 200,000 ribosomes present in every cell at any given time. A ribosome is a very large, complex macromolecule. Ribosomes are located in the cytoplasm in prokaryotes and in the cytoplasm and endoplasmic reticulum of eukaryotes. Ribosomes are made up of two subunits that come together for translation, rather like a hamburger bun comes together around the meat (the mRNA). The small subunit is responsible for binding the mRNA template, whereas the large subunit sequentially binds tRNAs, a type of RNA molecule that brings amino acids to the growing chain of the polypeptide. Each mRNA molecule can be simultaneously translated by many ribosomes, all synthesizing protein in the same direction.

Depending on the species, 40 to 60 types of tRNA exist in the cytoplasm. Serving as adaptors, specific tRNAs bind to sequences on the mRNA template and add the corresponding amino acid to the polypeptide chain. Therefore, tRNAs are the molecules that actually “translate” the language of RNA into the language of proteins. For each tRNA to function, it must have its specific amino acid bonded to it. In the process of tRNA “charging,” each tRNA molecule is bonded to its correct amino acid.

tRNA in the ribosome
Figure 7: Translation begins when a tRNA anticodon recognizes a codon on the mRNA. The large ribosomal subunit joins the small subunit, and a second tRNA is recruited. As the mRNA moves relative to the ribosome, the polypeptide chain is formed. Entry of a release factor into the A site terminates translation and the components dissociate.


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OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. May 27, 2016 http://cnx.org/contents/s8Hh0oOc@9.10:FUH9XUkW@6/Translation


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Mt Hood Community College Biology 102 by Lisa Bartee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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