Concerns that mRNA in vaccines will modify our genome unfounded, says expert

COVID-19 vaccines deliver an mRNA molecule to cells, but they cannot modify the human genome, medical biologist Dr. Piotr Rzymski from the Poznań University of Medical Sciences says.

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“Our cells are constantly producing RNA that performs various functions. And if any RNA could be transcribed into DNA that would be built into our genome, it would be a completely unstable creation. It is even hard to imagine the consequences. The cell would be in total chaos,” said Dr. Rzymski.

Currently there are two vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that use mRNA, which contains the recipe for the S protein of the virus, commonly known as the spike protein.

“In the vaccine, the ready-made mRNA is injected, on the basis of which the entire SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is produced. It is then processed inside the cell, displayed on its surface and recognized by cells of the immune system. This initiates the immune response formation processes, both cellular and related to the production of antibodies,” he said.

“It should be noted that mRNA found in the cytoplasm has no possibility of penetrating the nuclear envelope barrier into the cell nucleus, where the chromosomes are located. But even if we assumed that the mRNA would somehow reach the nucleus, it could not be built into the genome, because it would first have to be transcribed into DNA in the process of reverse transcription," Dr. Rzymski added.

Reverse transcription is the process, in which RNA is transcribed into DNA. Some viruses use this mechanism, including retroviruses such as HIV. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus does not use the reverse transcription process to replicate itself in our cells.

“The claim that any RNA in a cell can be transcribed into DNA is incorrect. If it were true, our genome would be completely unstable, and it would be subject to serious changes very often.” Dr. Rzymski emphasised.

He also warned against paying attention to unreviewed papers appearing online.

“In times of the pandemic, these servers are used to rapidly exchange scientific information on COVID-19 that is often vital. They also are followed by the media. And this is a problem, because some preprints are immature or careless studies, they never appear in specialist journals later, and can cause media confusion,” he concluded.