mRNA Hits the Road: mRNA Transport between Cells of Different Species

Linda Wiratan, Summer Research Undergraduate – Harvard University

Stories_insci Stories_insci on July 31, 2018

Linda Wiratan

In less than 200 words, what main research questions are you working on? Please make sure to first include a brief context and background to your research, articulate your question(s) and conclude with why you think it’s important to study the them (i.e., the potential broader impacts).
The transport of mRNA (the intermediate molecule carrying genetic information from DNA to protein) between mammalian cells is a known phenomenon. Yet decades of research have only indirectly shown that it occurs. One reason direct proof is difficult to obtain is that cells of the same species contain virtually identical types of mRNA. This makes it impossible to distinguish whether mRNA from one cell is found in another. My summer project addresses this by demonstrating mRNA translocation between cells of different species, where mRNA of the same type have small nucleotide sequence differences that can be fluorescently identified as coming from one species or the other. I grow mouse and human cells together and investigate whether certain mice mRNA are present in human cells. I am currently optimizing mRNA labeling conditions to achieve the best possible fluorescent image of these cells. My project is an example of basic research, which seeks to understand natural processes for the sake of expanding human knowledge. Basic research is humbling; we are reminded not to assume or overestimate how much we know about the world. The cell is still a blob of vast mysteries, and to study this blob is a road trip in itself.