The control of translation is increasingly recognized as a major factor in determining protein levels in the cell. The ribosome — the cellular machine that mediates protein synthesis — is typically seen as a key, but invariant, player in this process. This is because translational control is thought to be mediated by other auxiliary factors while ribosome recruitment is seen as the end-point of regulation. However, recent developments have made it clear that heterogeneous ribosome types can exist in different tissues, and more importantly, that these ribosomes can preferentially translate different subsets of mRNAs. In so doing, heterogeneous ribosomes could be key regulatory players in differentiation and development. Here, we examine current evidence for the existence of different ribosome types and how they might arise. In particular, we will take a close look at the mechanisms through which these ribosomes might mediate selective mRNA translation. We also summarize recently developed techniques/approaches that will aid in our understanding of the functions of such specialized ribosomes.

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