At EnginZyme, we were thrilled to see the news that Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman had won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for demonstrating how to make mRNA vaccines work by replacing uridine, one of mRNA’s building block molecules, with a similar molecule called pseudouridine. (Uridine triggers an immune reaction that breaks down the mRNA).
It seemed to put an emphatic stamp of approval on a project that involved a lot of team effort: synthesizing pseudouridine, using enzymes as catalysts. We’ll admit it, the Nobel news was also a bit lucky from a PR perspective.
More than two years before the Nobel was awarded, The New York Times published this lovely profile of Katalin Karikó, who focused on mRNA over her entire career, often to the detriment of her bank account. The article notes that her husband once calculated that with all the free overtime she put in, she often earned about a dollar an hour.
Cassandra Willyard, a reporter with MIT Technology Review, wrote a very approachable piece that explains how the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines work and details many of the other diseases mRNA may help protect against – or provide therapies for. At the end of the article, she links to the best journalism MIT Tech Review has done on the topic.
A lot of generalist publications completely avoided using the word “pseudouridine,” probably because editors have a real aversion to words that are hard to spell or pronounce. Not Scientific American. This article by Lauren J. Young is crystal clear in its explanations and doesn’t shy away from the dreaded word. The article ends on a hopeful note, detailing how researchers are trying to apply mRNA technology “to autoimmune diseases, cancers, food and environmental allergies, bacterial diseases and insect-borne diseases.”
It’s amazing how good journalism can stand the test of time. This excellent piece by Clare Sansom for Chemistry World covers a lot of ground from the origin of mRNA vaccines to the possibilities the technology holds for the future. Sansom does a particularly good job explaining for the uninitiated the roles of DNA and RNA. The article is two years old but still well worth reading.