Coronaviruses range from the common cold to more severe infections such as SARS (SARS-CoV) and MERS (MERS-CoV) and the current Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2). As yet there is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent coronavirus infections. These both have FDA emergency use authorization.

Two of the Covid-19 vaccines available in the US use messenger RNA technology to prevent or reduce the symptoms of Covid-19 infection. This mRNA vaccine technology is new; the consequences of altered DNA, if any, are unknown. However, others, including the CDC said that the virus would not interact with DNA.

Other scientists believe that mRNA vaccines can enter and permanently alter DNA. Like DNA vaccines, RNA vaccines use part of the genetic code of the virus to get the immune system to respond.

An article currently in preprint (not yet peer reviewed) discusses a lab study in which some pieces of Covid-19 RNA were converted to DNA and then integrated into human chromosomes.

Medical Daily talked to lead author Rudolf Jaenisch, MD. A professor of Biology at MIT, Dr. Jaenisch, performed the first experiment proving that genetic defects could be corrected in rodents. Currently he is working on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism and cancer in humans. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Wolf Prize in Medicine.

MD: Does your recent study indicate that the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines can damage DNA in humans?

Dr. Jaenisch: Not really evidence of damage. The mRNA can integrate into the DNA and possibly be expressed but there is no direct evidence of that.

MD: If the mRNA vaccines can integrate into human DNA what could this mean for the future?

Dr. Jaenisch: It will be breakthrough technology. It will change the way diseases are treated.

MD: How will mRNA or DNA vaccines change treatments?

Dr. Jaenisch: These mRNA Covid-19 vaccines are the first to show safety and efficacy of this type of therapy. If there is sufficient evidence that this technology is safe and effective then this has huge potential for future therapies for treating many diseases.

The Jaenisch lab’s work might also explain why patients who have recovered from Covid-19 still test positive for the disease, even months later, according to an ABC news report. If the virus did modify these patients’ DNA, then its genetic information could still be active. The Jaenisch lab found that the virus used an enzyme called LINE-1 to get back into the cell to replicate. LINE-1 is readily available in the human genome.

Regarding whether mRNA vaccines could change DNA, Dr. Jaenisch thinks it might be a good thing. He also thinks this new technology will lead the way to breakthrough treatments for many diseases that affect people. Since Dr. Jaenisch has been studying DNA in cancer and neurological diseases for decades, what he thinks is likely more than most of us know.

Yvonne Stolworthy MSN, RN graduated from nursing school in 1984 and has spent many years in critical care and as an educator in a variety of settings, including clinical trials.