Ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) is the RNA component of the ribosome, and is essential for protein synthesis in all living organisms. It comprises the predominant material within the ribosome, which is ca. 60% rRNA and 40% protein by weight. Ribosomes contain two major rRNAs and 50 or more proteins. The LSU and SSU rRNAs are found within the large and small ribosomal subunits, respectively. The LSU rRNA acts as a ribozyme, catalyzing peptide bond formation. rRNA sequences are widely used for working out evolutionary relationships among organisms, since they are of ancient origin and are found in all known forms of life.
Inside the ribosome 
The ribosomal RNAs form two subunits, the large subunit (LSU) and small subunit (SSU). mRNA is sandwiched between the small and large subunits and the ribosome catalyzes the formation of a peptide bond between the 2 amino acids that are contained in the rRNA.
A ribosome also has 3 binding sites called A, P, and E.
- The A site in the ribosome binds to an aminoacyl-tRNA (a tRNA bound to an amino acid).
- The amino (NH2) group of the aminoacyl-tRNA, which contains the new amino acid, attacks the ester linkage of peptidyl-tRNA (contained within the P site), which contains the last amino acid of the growing chain, forming a new peptide bond. This reaction is catalyzed by peptidyl transferase.
- The tRNA that was holding on the last amino acid is moved to the E site, and what used to be the aminoacyl-tRNA is the peptidyl-tRNA.
A single mRNA can be translated simultaneously by multiple ribosomes.
Prokaryotes vs. eukaryotes 
Both prokaryotic and eukaryotic ribosomes can be broken down into two subunits (the S in 16S represents Svedberg units), nt= length in nucleotides of the respective rRNAs, for exemplary species Escherichia coli (prokaryote) and human (eukaryote):
|Type||Size||Large subunit (rRNAs)||Small subunit (rRNA)|
|prokaryotic||70S||50S (5S : 120 nt, 23S : 2906 nt)||30S (16S : 1542 nt)|
|eukaryotic||80S||60S (5S : 121 nt, 5.8S : 156 nt, 28S : 5070 nt)||40S (18S : 1869 nt)|
Note that the S units of the subunits (or the rRNAs) cannot simply be added because they represent measures of sedimentation rate rather than of mass. The sedimentation rate of each subunit is affected by its shape, as well as by its mass. The nt units can be added as these represent the integer number of units in the linear rRNA polymers (for example, the total length of the human rRNA = 7216 nt).
The large 50S ribosomal subunit contains two rRNA species (the 5S and 23S rRNAs).
In contrast, eukaryotes generally have many copies of the rRNA genes organized in tandem repeats; in humans approximately 300–400 repeats are present in five clusters (on chromosomes 13, 14, 15, 21 and 22). Because of their special structure and transcription behaviour, rRNA gene clusters are commonly called "ribosomal DNA" (note that the term seems to imply that ribosomes contain DNA, which is not the case).
Mammalian cells have 2 mitochondrial (12S and 16S) rRNA molecules and 4 types of cytoplasmic rRNA (the 28S, 5.8S, 18S, and 5S subunits). The 28S, 5.8S, and 18S rRNAs are encoded by a single transcription unit (45S) separated by 2 internally transcribed spacers. The 45S rDNA organized into 5 clusters (each has 30-40 repeats) on chromosomes 13, 14, 15, 21, and 22. These are transcribed by RNA polymerase I. 5S occurs in tandem arrays (~200-300 true 5S genes and many dispersed pseudogenes), the largest one on the chromosome 1q41-42. 5S rRNA is transcribed by RNA polymerase III.
The tertiary structure of the small subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) has been resolved by X-ray crystallography. The secondary structure of SSU rRNA contains 4 distinct domains — the 5', central, 3' major and 3' minor domains. A model of the secondary structure for the 5' domain (500-800 nucleotides) is shown.
Translation is the net effect of proteins being synthesized by ribosomes, from a copy (mRNA) of the DNA template in the nucleus. One of the components of the ribosome (16S rRNA) base pairs complementary to a sequence upstream of the start codon in mRNA.
Importance of rRNA 
- rRNA is the target of several clinically relevant antibiotics: chloramphenicol, erythromycin, kasugamycin, micrococcin, paromomycin, ricin, sarcin, spectinomycin, streptomycin, and thiostrepton.
- rRNA is one of only a few gene products present in all cells. For this reason, genes that encode the rRNA (rDNA) are sequenced to identify an organism's taxonomic group, calculate related groups, and estimate rates of species divergence. As a result, many thousands of rRNA sequences are known and stored in specialized databases such as RDP-II and SILVA.
- RPL1, RPL2, RPL3, RPL4, RPL5, RPL6, RPL7, RPL8, RPL9, RPL10, RPL11, RPL12, RPL13, RPL14, RPL15, RPL16, RPL17, RPL18, RPL19, RPL20, RPL21, RPL22, RPL23, RPL24, RPL25, RPL26, RPL27, RPL28, RPL29, RPL30, RPL31, RPL32, RPL33, RPL34, RPL35, RPL36, RPL37, RPL38, RPL39, RPL40, RPL41
- MRPL1, MRPL2, MRPL3, MRPL4, MRPL5, MRPL6, MRPL7, MRPL8, MRPL9, MRPL10, MRPL11, MRPL12, MRPL13, MRPL14, MRPL15, MRPL16, MRPL17, MRPL18, MRPL19, MRPL20, MRPL21, MRPL22, MRPL23, MRPL24, MRPL25, MRPL26, MRPL27, MRPL28, MRPL29, MRPL30, MRPL31, MRPL32, MRPL33, MRPL34, MRPL35, MRPL36, MRPL37, MRPL38, MRPL39, MRPL40, MRPL41, MRPL42
- RPS1, RPS2, RPS3, RPS4, RPS5, RPS6, RPS7, RPS8, RPS9, RPS10, RPS11, RPS12, RPS13, RPS14, RPS15, RPS16, RPS17, RPS18, RPS19, RPS20, RPS21, RPS22, RPS23, RPS24, RPS25, RPS26, RPS27, RPS28, RPS29
- MRPS1, MRPS2, MRPS3, MRPS4, MRPS5, MRPS6, MRPS7, MRPS8, MRPS9, MRPS10, MRPS11, MRPS12, MRPS13, MRPS14, MRPS15, MRPS16, MRPS17, MRPS18, MRPS19, MRPS20, MRPS21, MRPS22, MRPS23, MRPS24, MRPS25, MRPS26, MRPS27, MRPS28, MRPS29, MRPS30, MRPS31, MRPS32, MRPS33, MRPS34, MRPS35
These denote genes encoding for the proteins of the ribosome and are transcribed as mRNA, not rRNA.
See also 
- "Homo sapiens 5S ribosomal RNA".
- "Homo sapiens 5.8S ribosomal RNA".
- "Homo sapiens 28S ribosomal RNA".
- "Homo sapiens 18S ribosomal RNA".
- Yusupov MM, Yusupova GZ, Baucom A, et al. (2001). "Crystal structure of the ribosome at 5.5 A resolution". Science 292 (5518): 883–96. doi:10.1126/science.1060089. PMID 11283358.
- Smit S, Widmann J, Knight R (2007). "Evolutionary rates vary among rRNA structural elements". Nucleic Acids Res 35 (10): 3339–54. doi:10.1093/nar/gkm101. PMC 1904297. PMID 17468501.
- Cole, JR; Chai B, Marsh TL, Farris RJ, Wang Q, Kulam SA, Chandra S, McGarrell DM, Schmidt TM, Garrity GM, Tiedje JM (2003). "The Ribosomal Database Project (RDP-II): previewing a new autoaligner that allows regular updates and the new prokaryotic taxonomy". Nucleic Acids Res 31 (1): 442–3. doi:10.1093/nar/gkg039. PMC 165486. PMID 12520046.
- Pruesse, E; Quast C, Knittel K, Fuchs BM, Ludwig W, Peplies J, Gloeckner FO (2007). "SILVA: a comprehensive online resource for quality checked and aligned ribosomal RNA sequence data compatible with ARB". Nucleic Acids Res 35 (1): 7188–7196. doi:10.1093/nar/gkm864. PMC 2175337. PMID 17947321.
- SILVA rRNA Database Project (also includes Eukaryotes (18S) and LSU (23S/28S))
- European database on small subunit ribosomal RNA
- Ribosomal Database Project II
- 16S rRNA, BioMineWiki
- Page for Small subunit ribosomal RNA, 5' domain at Rfam