I think of DNA as the book of recipes for making humans. Synthetic mRNA is about to elevate the recipes at mass scale with the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
To benefit from a recipe book, you need a cook who can read the instructions and follow it faithfully. The book is the blueprint and the cook is the agent. In our cells, the RNA is the agent, the conduit between the recipes and the creation of different types of cells.
RNA reads the DNA and with the help of messenger RNA (mRNA) and transfer RNA (tRNA) tells the cells what proteins to create and how.
Pfizer and Moderna’a vaccines will inject synthetic mRNA into our cells. Synthetic meaning the instruction is not derived from DNA. This mRNA will make our cells produce a protein that looks like the covid virus. It’s not the real thing but it fools the immune system into producing antibodies against the intruder.
Synthetic mRNA is like Tarun standing over my shoulder altering the recipe because he knows that the tweak can produce a new dish that won’t poison us. He sure knows how to cook, so I change the recipe without offering resistance. In the same way, the body quietly accepts the altered mRNA and does its bidding.
Extend the use of synthetic mRNA and you have a whole new way of fighting a wide array of diseases and reversing the ravages of malformed DNA and new pathogens.
So, who is behind the synthetic mRNA magic?
Their names are Karikó and Weisman and the duo will soon be on the same pedestal as Watson and Crick who are credited for the discovery of DNA.
Katalin Karikó is a Hungarian scientist who slaved over the belief that synthetic mRNA has ground-breaking potential. At UPenn she bore a decade of grant rejections and the scorn of her colleagues. When synthetic mRNA was injected into cells, her experiments caused the subjects to sense a foreign object and create a massive overreaction, an unfettered war of sorts. This compromised her experiments.
In the subsequent years, she was demoted and left UPenn but continued collaborating with her colleague, Drew Weismann. Together they tweaked one of the nucleotides in the synthetic mRNA to control the unexpected immune reaction. They called this "swapping of a misaligned tire". The tweak caused the synthetic mRNA to sneak into the body without the war.
In 2005, Karikó and Weismann began publishing their discovery. By 2007 Derek Rossi, a recent Stanford graduate and a Harvard professor picked up on the potential of synthetic mRNA to alter embryonic stem cells which would provide endless possibilities for disease management.
Rossi connected with venture capitalists in the Cambridge area at the same time as a Turkish couple - Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci - in Germany started BioNTech based on Karikó and Weismann's research. Rossi's associations led to the creation of Moderna and BioNTech collaborated with Pfizer. And now we eagerly await the world’s first mRNA vaccines.
Karikó and Weismann are surely on their way to the Nobel prize in Medicine. The award will be a testament to endless and thankless toil that is about to change the course of this pandemic and impact the future of medicine in a significant way.
Kudos to Karikó for having faith and the courage to alter our molecular recipe with an AI-infused ingredient!
(Info from https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/10/the-story-of-mrna-how-a-once-dismissed-idea-became-a-leading-technology-in-the-covid-vaccine-race/#:~:text=And%20for%20the%20Hungarian%2Dborn,spent%20the%201990s%20collecting%20rejections.
Image from global-engage.com)