The orchestra of life: Technion scientists crack mRNA coordination system

After 15 years of research, Prof. Mordechai Choder and Dr. Stephen Richard are able to offer a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the complex mechanisms that make us who we are.

 Professor Mordechai Choder  (photo credit: TECHNION)
Professor Mordechai Choder
(photo credit: TECHNION)
Technion scientists were able to decipher how mRNA works together with other biological systems.
Now getting a great deal of attention due to their importance in the COVID-19 vaccinations, mRNA introduces the novel coronavirus to the human cells of the patient to “teach” the immune system how to respond if it is infected in the future.
The importance of the discovery goes even beyond the current pandemic. This is because the mRNA are essential for protein production. Proteins are the basic building blocks of nearly all aspects of life, they allow us to breath, pass neural signals, and to have skins, among other important functions.
Due to this, it is vital to understand how DNA communicates with mRNA to ensure the body produces what is useful, and doesn’t create anything harmful.
Prof. Mordechai Choder and Dr. Stephen Richard suggest imagining this special system as a conductor leading an orchestra, or a chef following a cookbook, or even as a language with letters and words.
The cookbook metaphor is the DNA, which instructs the mRNA what to make. The mRNA are later destroyed, much like a chef might write down notes while making a complex dish to later throw them away. In theory, each cell has a DNA with all possible dishes, from how to make neural transmitters to oxygen-binder proteins, with four stages are in place to ensure harmonious production.
The synthesis and maturation stage makes sure that the two-meter long cookbook (as the DNA is a large molecule) will be “read” in one place to make one “dish” or protein. No pages are “torn” out of the book, the mRNA transports the information to the cytoplasm outside the nucleus. That’s where the “cooking” takes place. Then the ribosome translate the information into a new protein with the mRNA helping out. The last stage is the decay of the mRNA itself, which is constantly being replaced in a healthy organism.
Choder was able to discover mRNA coordinators ten years ago, comparing them to the “conductor of an orchestra” as they make sure all the stages take place in the right time and tempo.
But even the best conductors must “tell” musicians how to play. What Choder and Richard recently found was that methyl and phosphoryl are used as “letters” that create an “instruction” which binds to the coordinators as they work with the mRNA. Just as in music, the signals can mean “all is well, proceed,” or to “slow down” and even “stop.”
The last instruction would mean that the mRNA would be destroyed, better that than to create a faulty protein!
The discovery of one language binding the smallest parts of the body together might mean the body speaks in different dialects for other functions.