Sculptors of the cell: RNA research at Whitehead Institute

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is an essential and highly versatile molecule that shapes the landscape of every cell in our body, and even the course of evolution. In this multimedia collection, we explore some of the ways in which Whitehead Institute scientists are pushing the boundaries of what is known in the field of RNA biology and uncovering important implications for health and disease.

An RNA artist chips away at a sculpture of a person

When the first Covid-19 vaccines were announced, they made headlines both because of their promise to turn the tide in the Covid pandemic and because they would be the first RNA vaccines allowed to be used in people. Developing these vaccines as quickly as they were is a testament not only to the companies that produce them, but also to the decades of foundational science in RNA biology, virology, and immunology that made them ripe for discovery. Researchers at Whitehead Institute have contributed many important insights into the form and function of RNA over the years, and they continue to explore the science of RNA in a variety of contexts, including the Covid-19 pandemic and other areas of health and disease.


Whitehead Institute researchers are studying how RNA molecules group together for the good of the cell and our health — and what happens when these groupings go awry.

Researchers at Whitehead Institute have made important discoveries that have uncovered the prevalence, characteristics, and functions of regulatory RNAs. Their work has transformed researchers’ understanding of gene regulation and revealed a complex, elegant system that tailors gene expression for each cell type and tissue.

Unlike our own genomes, the genetic material of the novel coronavirus is RNA — and RNA also makes up some of the vaccines. Learn how the field of RNA biology has been working to meet the challenges of the virus, and what Whitehead Institute RNA researchers have been working on throughout the pandemic. 

Whitehead Institute researchers Silvi Rouskin, Ankur Jain, and David Bartel discuss how their RNA research connects to health and disease, including viral infections and neurodegeneration. This podcast is part of a multimedia series on RNA.