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What is mRNA?

Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is a single-stranded RNA molecule found in cells that carry a gene’s genetic information in order to make proteins. mRNA — and genetics in general — is a topic in life sciences and belongs to the sub-category of molecular biology.

DNA vs RNA vs mRNA

There are various similarities between DNA, RNA, and mRNA such as how they relate to genetics and molecular biology. However, there are differences too. Here’s a simple breakdown of each term and what it consists of:

  • DNA: This molecule, in the shape of a double helix, consists of 23 pairs (in humans) of genes and is the “blueprint” for how an organism will appear, inside and out.
  • RNA: Also a molecule, RNA is created from just one strand of a DNA’s double helix. It contains the “instructions” needed to synthesize proteins.
  • mRNA: A type of RNA molecule, mRNA is the specific one tasked with carrying genetic information from the DNA to ribosomes, as DNA never leaves the cell’s nucleus.

Other Names for mRNA:

  • Messenger RNA
  • Messenger ribonucleic acid
  • Genetic transcription
  • Single-stranded RNA
  • mRNA vaccine

Why is mRNA Important?

mRNA is important because it’s responsible for the transport of genetic information within an organism or biological system, as well as forming the basis of molecular biology. Not only does its transcription create necessary proteins, but mRNA also acts as a safety mechanism against intruders to prevent them from creating “bad” proteins by releasing destructive enzymes. The molecule has other failsafe features, like controlling the rate of protein production, and self-destructing — like a Snapchat message — after it completes its task(s).

Along with the naturally occurring functions, mRNA has also been manipulated in laboratory settings, such as providing the technology for vaccines (most recently and popularly seen with the COVID-19 pandemic). mRNA vaccines act by coding the spike protein of a virus’s molecule, translating the protein, and triggering the immune system to mount a response and produce antibodies.

The usefulness of mRNA extends even further, presenting an exciting area of innovation in medicine, technology, and science. Clinical trials are underway for using mRNA as a small molecule drug in cancer treatments, immunotherapies, allergies, and rare genetic disorders. A quick patent search shows just how many patents currently exist that underscore mRNA’s popularity in research and development (R&D), intellectual property (IP), artificial intelligence (AI), and more.