Cover art for podcast Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Open Source with Christopher Lydon

50 EpisodesProduced by Christopher LydonWebsite

Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics


The mRNA Story

mRNA is the bright spark in a disaster year still darkening under the surge of COVID deaths and new cases. mRNA is the messenger molecule with news of help on the way. It’s described as fast, fragile, unstable, short-lived, compared to DNA, but it delivers the code that makes the protein that animates every cell of life on earth. And now it’s been given a therapeutic mission. For cells under attack by a virus, it turns out mRNA has a way of delivering repair instructions and cranking up a flood of good information in a vulnerable body.

Derrick Rossi, founder of Moderna, with his family. Photo by Manny Delbruck, June 1960. Left to right: Charles Steinberg, François Jacob, Max Delbruck, Matthew Meselson, Ronald Rolfe, Gunther Stent, and Sydney Brenner.

We’re taking a short course this hour on what looks like a life-saving molecule inside the COVID vaccines coming soon to a clinic near you. The active agent in the vaccine is nature’s own RNA, the messenger mate of DNA, which holds the code of life in molecular form. It’s RNA that delivers the coded message that structures the proteins that make every living thing. At the head of the race for COVID vaccines, what the trial runs establish – and in record time – is that modified mRNA fires up a defense system in your body that fights off the COVID virus in the great majority of tests. Before this hour is done, we will tap a crystalline 60-year-old memory of the legendary biologist Matthew Meselson. Back in 1960, he couldn’t see the messenger molecule but he wrote the historic paper saying it had to be there and called it RNA.

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