The Ribosomes

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A ribosome translating a protein that is secreted into the endoplasmic reticulum.


OpenStax Microbiology

Ribosomes found in eukaryotic organelles such as mitochondria or chloroplasts have 70S ribosomes—the same size as prokaryotic ribosomes. However, nonorganelle-associated ribosomes in eukaryotic cells are 80S ribosomes, composed of a 40S small subunit and a 60S large subunit. In terms of size and composition, this makes them distinct from the ribosomes of prokaryotic cells.

The two types of nonorganelle-associated eukaryotic ribosomes are defined by their location in the cell: free ribosomes and membrane-bound ribosomes. Free ribosomes are found in the cytoplasm and serve to synthesize water-soluble proteins; membrane-bound ribosomes are found attached to the rough endoplasmic reticulum and make proteins for insertion into the cell membrane or proteins destined for export from the cell.

The differences between eukaryotic and prokaryotic ribosomes are clinically relevant because certain antibiotic drugs are designed to target one or the other. For example, cycloheximide targets eukaryotic action, whereas chloramphenicol targets prokaryotic ribosomes. Since human cells are eukaryotic, they generally are not harmed by antibiotics that destroy the prokaryotic ribosomes in bacteria. However, sometimes negative side effects may occur because mitochondria in human cells contain prokaryotic ribosomes.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: