mRNA and the Future of Vaccines

Cell Crunch (Issue 2021.02.12)

Niko McCarty
Feb 13 · 4 min read

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The light microscope opened the first gate to microcosm. The electron microscope opened the second gate to microcosm. What will we find opening the third gate?

Ernst Ruska

📰 Bioengineering in the News

DNA is my love language.

mRNA vaccines can protect people from the novel coronavirus. In the future, they could protect people from much more. MIT Technology Review. Link

: Ribosomes are exquisitely chaotic; pistons pumping, gears thrumming, they read through mRNA and spit out proteins with blistering pace. Now, scientists are modifying these machines to create new types of polymers. Chemical & Engineering News. Link (See my technical proposal to engineer ribosomes to create a ‘mirrored’ organism.)

: For a recent study, researchers expressed a Neanderthal gene in brain organoids — hundreds of thousands of human cells, grown in the lab, that ‘mimic’ normal brains — to understand its ancient function. That single gene “triggered striking changes in the anatomy and function of brain organoids,” writes Carl Zimmer in The New York Times. Link (Also reported in Scientific American and Science).

Aaaand….it turns out that neanderthal microbiomes were pretty similar to our own. That’s according to a DNA analysis of 50,000 year old poop. Fun. Ars Technica. Link

America is not prepared for biological threats. Now, the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense is calling for an ‘Apollo program’ to tackle the issue. Future Human. Link

A new technique, called Loop-seq, can measure the ‘bendability’ of DNA. Nature Methods. Link

Twenty years after publishing the human genome sequence, Nature’s editor-in-chief reflects on the achievement. . Nature. Link

DNA sequences, stored in digital databases, are spread out across websites and repositories like a patchwork quilt. Scientists and government agencies can do better. Nature. Link

New coronavirus variants are spreading across the U.S. The threat will demand a surge in viral testing; some existing facilities are barely being used. Science. Link

Researchers at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology used CRISPRi to shut down biofilm formation in Enterococcus faecalis, a common cause of hospital-acquired infections. MIT News. Link

Gene therapy is pretty good at tackling diseases caused by one defective gene. But how does it fare at tackling complex diseases, caused by myriad genetic interactions? This article takes a ‘deep dive’ on that topic. Link

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Image for post
Cells imaged with cytoskeleton in green and RNAs in red. [Credit: National Cancer Institute, Peixuan Guo, Yi Shu and Zhengyi Zhao | Public Domain]

💳Industry Updates

If you’re into press releases.

Ally Therapeutics, a new startup out of George Church’s group, is developing AAVs that can ‘hide’ from the immune system. Fierce Biotech. Link

Caribou Biosciences, the Berkeley, Ca. based CRISPR company, signed a deal with AbbVie to develop an “off-the-shelf cancer cell therapy.” The deal could be worth up to $340 million. San Francisco Business Times. Link

Codexis, the Redwood City, Ca. based enzyme engineering company, will move into a 36,000 square foot pad in San Carlos, Ca. Globe Newswire. Link

Drug Farm, based in both China and the U.S., has raised $56 million to develop and test immune-modulating therapeutics. The company plans to conduct human clinical trials for its hepatitis B drug. Business Wire. Link

EnginZyme, based in Stockholm, Sweden, raised €11 million in a series A to advance their cell-free manufacturing technology. Business Wire. Link

Ensoma, a new spinout from researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington School of Medicine, raised $70 million in venture funding to develop new vectors for delivering genomic medicines. Fierce Biotech. Link

Hoxton Farms, a London-based cell biotechnology company, raised £2.7M in a seed round, led by Thiel’s Founders Fund, to make animal fat without animals. Tech Crunch. Link

LanzaJet, a renewable fuels biotechnology company in Skokie, Ill., inked a deal with British Airways to supply 7,500 tons of a fuel additive annually. Tech Crunch. Link

Nanome, a San Diego, Ca. based developer of virtual reality platforms to help scientists explore biological molecules, has raised $3 million in a funding round led by Bullpen Capital. Tech Crunch. Link

Notch Therapeutics, based in Vancouver, raised $85 million in a series A round. The company develops cellular therapies for cancer using induced pluripotent stem cells. PR Newswire. Link

Pacific Biosciences, the Menlo Park, Ca. based sequencing company, has received a $900 million investment commitment from Soft Bank. Fierce Biotech. Link

Until next time,


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Innovation for the Bioeconomy

Niko McCarty

Written by

Science journalism at NYU. Previously Caltech, Imperial College. #SynBio newsletter: Web:


The Medium publication for biotechnology and everyone involved in the revolution. The best brought to you by the brightest.

Niko McCarty

Written by

Science journalism at NYU. Previously Caltech, Imperial College. #SynBio newsletter: Web:


The Medium publication for biotechnology and everyone involved in the revolution. The best brought to you by the brightest.

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