Understanding could boost effectiveness of future COVID-19 vaccine

As scientists around the world race to decode the coronavirus that has caused more than 15,000 deaths in a matter of months, a group of University of Chicago chemists are focusing on understanding how the virus’s RNA works—which could translate to a more effective vaccine.

COVID-19, like many other viruses, is made solely out of RNA, the set of molecules that most of us remember learning in biology class as messengers that carry out instructions from DNA. But Prof. Chuan He opened a new field of biology nearly a decade ago by discovering the process is much more complex than that: messenger RNA is actually an active player that can be modified and unmodified in ways that can crucially affect cell function.

Later studies found that viral RNA can hijack their host’s modification processes to gain survival advantages. On the other hand, the host (or scientist) can also target these modifications to suppress an infection.

As the coronavirus outbreak has progressed, He’s lab has turned its attention to decoding the role that RNA modifications play in COVID-19.

“We know that some RNA viruses are highly modified, including HIV and Zika, and that these are very important to the function of the virus,” said He, the John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor at UChicago. “It’s possible the same is true for COVID-19.”

Read more at UChicago News.