The ribosome: a molecular machine powered by RNA

Met Ions Life Sci. 2011;9:253-75. doi: 10.1039/9781849732512-00253.


Metal ions are the salt in the soup of essentially every biological system. Also in the ribosome, the largest natural ribozyme that produces all proteins in every living cell, metal ions have been found contributing significantly to the highly dynamic and accurate process of translation. The ribosome is considered a molecular fossil of the 'RNA world' and it could be shown that the evolutionarily oldest parts of the particle, which build the catalytic center and surrounding domains, are densely packed with divalent metal ions. Nevertheless, metal ions do not seem to directly participate in ribosomal catalysis, their important roles in the ribosome, however, cannot be denied. It is probable that mono- and divalent metal ions primarily promote the functionally competent architecture of the ribosomal RNAs, but more direct roles in mRNA decoding and reading frame maintenance are likely. Decades of biochemical studies and the recent high resolution crystallographic structures of the ribosome strongly indicate that metal ions are involved in essentially every phase of the ribosomal elongation cycle, thus contributing significantly to the precise translation of the genetic code.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Ions / chemistry
  • Metals / chemistry
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • RNA / chemistry
  • RNA / genetics
  • RNA / metabolism*
  • RNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • RNA, Ribosomal / metabolism
  • Ribosomal Proteins / chemistry
  • Ribosomal Proteins / genetics
  • Ribosomal Proteins / metabolism
  • Ribosomes / chemistry
  • Ribosomes / genetics
  • Ribosomes / metabolism*


  • Ions
  • Metals
  • Protein Subunits
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • Ribosomal Proteins
  • RNA