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A ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule that, like a protein, can catalyze specific biochemical reactions. Examples include self-splicing rRNA and RNase P, both involved in catalyzing RNA processing reactions (that is, the biochemical reactions that convert a newly synthesized RNA molecule to its mature form). Different ribozyme structures catalyze quite distinct RNA processing reactions, just as protein enzyme families that are composed of different structures catalyze different types of biochemical reactions.
Ribozymes share many similarities with protein enzymes, as assessed by two parameters that are used to describe a biological catalyst. The Michaelis-Menten constant Km relates to the affinity that the catalyst has for its substrate, and ribozymes possess Km values which are comparable to Km values of protein enzymes. The catalytic rate constant describes how efficiently a catalyst converts substrate into product. The values of this constant for ribozymes are markedly lower than those values observed for protein enzymes. Nevertheless, ribozymes accelerate the rate of chemical reaction with specific substrates by 1011 compared with the rate observed for the corresponding uncatalyzed, spontaneous reaction. Therefore, ribozymes and protein enzymes are capable of lowering to similar extents the activation energy for chemical reaction. See Enzyme, Protein, Ribonucleic acid (RNA)