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K-State Today

April 28, 2022

K-State biologists identify chemical markers that may unlock future therapeutic uses of mRNA

Submitted by Katsura Asano

An international research team led by Kansas State University's Katsura Asano, professor of biology, set out to find new ways to artificially induce messenger RNA, or mRNA, to respond in ways that could eventually lead to therapeutic outcomes, expanding on the success of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines and opening up new possibilities across a host of possible genetic therapies.

Asano and his research team paid attention to a biochemical process termed chemical modification that adds a chemical mark to RNA bases, corresponding to a genetic letter of life's blueprint, and identified such chemical marks that both speed up and slow down action in the beginnings of the chemical zippers involved in generating gene-specified proteins. The team published its findings, "Translational recoding by chemical modification of non-AUG start codon ribonucleotide bases," in the April 8 edition of Scientific Advances.

The team includes researchers at Hiroshima University, where Asano has a second affiliation, Kyoto University and Ritsumeikan University, all in Japan. K-State authors of the article include former students Whitney Pepper, Ariana Cecil, Madelyn Hilgers, Mackenzie Thornton, Izumi Asano and Carter Moravek, all of whom are now students in medical, pharmacy or other professional schools around the country.