Ribosomes are the only cell organelles occurring in all organisms. E. coli ribosomes, which are the best characterized particles, consist of three RNAs and 53 proteins. All components have been isolated and characterized by chemical, physical and immunological methods. The primary structures of the RNAs and of all the proteins are known. Information about the secondary structure of the proteins derives from circular dichroism measurements and from secondary structure prediction methods. The tertiary structure is being studied by limited proteolysis, proton magnetic resonance and crystallization followed by X-ray analysis. Various methods are being used to elucidate the architecture of the ribosomal particle: three-dimensional image reconstruction of crystals of bacterial ribosomes and/or their subunits; immune electron microscopy; neutron scattering; protein--protein, protein--RNA and RNA--RNA cross-linking; total reconstitution of ribosomal subunits. The results from these studies yield valuable information on the architecture of the ribosomal particle. Many mutants have been isolated in which one or a few ribosomal proteins are altered or even deleted. The genetic and biochemical characterization of these mutants allows conclusions about the importance of these proteins for the function of the ribosome. Ribosomal proteins from various prokaryotic and eukaryotic species have been compared by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, immunological methods, reconstitution and amino acid sequence analysis. These studies show a strong homology among prokaryotic ribosomal proteins but only a weak homology between proteins from prokaryotic and eukaryotic ribosomes. Comparison of the primary and secondary structures of the ribosomal RNAs from various organisms shows that the secondary structure of the RNA molecules has been strongly conserved throughout evolution.