RNA at work…

She was a nun, Sister Natalia, and when she spoke, we sophomore girls decided that she needed adenoid surgery. But this aging woman was whip-smart, and I began to truly listen to her, discovering that I was enthralled with a subject I had never studied before—biology.

She covered the basics, vertebrates and invertebrates. We looked in microscopes to identify unicellular ciliates like paramecia. We learned to define words like flagellum and cytoplasm.

But concurrent with these basics Natalia was teaching us—was a series of magnificent articles in LIFE MAGAZINE. The series was called The Human Body—this was late in 1962.


The articles, what Natalia was teaching us, was the beginning of my falling in love with science, and much later becoming an RN. The LIFE MAGAZINE series was ground-breaking and I saved some of the pages, still have them. Part three was entitled: HOW FUEL BECOMES ENERGY.

The above photo is a science illustrator’s conception of Messenger RNA or mRNA—what scientists are using now to create the COVID vaccines that will save many lives.

The article described the drawing: Here the Messenger RNA is joined by fragments of another RNA molecule called Transfer RNA (green). These have different types of amino acids trailing from them (red prisms with different numerals). The amino acids attach themselves to the Transfer RNA with the help of ATP and enzymes (red and yellow spokes at the upper center). Then the transfer RNA interlocks with Messenger RNA, causing the trailing amino acids to join in a long chain. Such a chain is a protein. Ready for use, the protein leaves the ribosome (far right). Thus, the precise, predetermined pattern has been passed on from DNA to Messenger RNA and Transfer RNA to make a protein chain—which is what the cell set out to manufacture in the first place.

I FORGIVE YOU, if you didn’t read all of that. I just want to emphasize that this SCIENCE has been around for many years. The creators of the vaccines to fight COVID19 are pulling from established scientific norms which were know and utilized before some of you reading this were even born. Terms above and others like mitochondrion, coenzyme are not new to our world!


When my husband was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia) in 2002, his knowledge base was that of a healthcare consultant, so he was familiar with more medical terms than most. I was a registered nurse—but I had to look this disease up in my Medical Surgery textbook. The first thing I found was that “these patients live for about five years.” I then turned to the copyright date—this was an older book. I immediately had hope—medical science is constantly finding ways to cure disease, improve overall health. Today, my husband is as feisty and healthy as ever. THIS IS ONLY TO EMPHASIZE, we need to believe in science.


Married couple and doctors Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci run the BioNTech lab in Mainz, Germany. When the United States and other western countries began to pay more attention to the virus that was spreading in China and killing people, they both realized it could spread around the world, causing a pandemic. Sahin immediately began work to discover a vaccine, using mRNA or messenger RNA.

A recent article in TIME MAGAZINE, took us back to the time period I refer to above. “Scientists …at Cambridge and James Watson at Harvard first identified and isolated mRNA molecules in 1961…Then in 2005, a pair of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, showed how to tweak a synthetic mRNA molecule, so it could get into human cells without being attacked by the body’s immune system. This and other discoveries are the reason that in the autumn of 2012, my husband entered a clinical trial that used monoclonal antibodies to attack his cancer cells and thus add years to his life.

DEFINITIONS: An antibody is a Y-shaped protein produced by B cells, which are part of the immune system. There are several different kinds of antibodies, and typically vaccines are designed to produce the antibodies that recognize and “tag” viruses as foreign invaders by binding to unique parts of a virus.

Antibodies that bind to the surface of a virus and block entry into a person’s cells can actually prevent infection or disease: this is called neutralization. These antibodies, which occur naturally in some people after vaccination or infection, can be copied in the lab and then given to people as a prevention option or treatment. The term “monoclonal” refers to these laboratory-made antibodies.


All of this is to emphasize that science is keeping us alive, is fighting COVID 19. The terms one reads about in relation to the vaccines have been around for a long time. The very up-to-date article in TIME concludes: The ability to code messenger RNA to do our bidding will transform medicine. As with the COVID vaccines, we can instruct mRNA to cause our cells to make antigens—molecules that stimulate our immune system—that could protect us against many viruses, bacteria, or other pathogens that cause infectious disease. For a visual chart to to:

PHOTO: LIFE MAGAZINE, from pages I’ve kept for a lot of years!