Hackers have posted a brand new trove of reverse-engineered data on Github.
And by “hackers,” I mean “scientists.” And that trove of “reverse-engineered data” is the mRNA sequence that makes Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine work.
Two Stanford scientists have been able to extract the entire mRNA sequence for Modern’s COVID-19 vaccine and the code on Github, a website popular with software developers looking to host and share source code.
An mRNA sequence is basically a set of instructions telling your body what to do. In the case of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, it tells your body what it needs to produce in order to fight COVID-19. In essence, it’s the code that runs the vaccine.
As , the outlet which first noticed the code posted on GitHub, points out, the entire repository on the site is only 4 pages long. Furthermore, the first half of the post is just a rundown from the scientists about what they did. The last two pages of the post on Github is what contain the entire mRNA sequence. Just two pages!
The scientists, Andrew Fire and Massa Shoura, explained some of the processes in an email to Motherboard. For example, they didn’t technically reverse engineer the vaccine to obtain the mRNA sequence.
Fire and Shoura also say that they were able to carry out their work without taking a single vaccine out of distribution. All the two scientists needed was a small amount of leftovers inside vials that are usually discarded after an individual is vaccinated. They even requested permission to keep the used vials from the FDA.
The scientists say they reached out to Moderna before publishing the mRNA sequence but did not hear back. According to Fire and Shoura, the FDA, however, did clear the decision “to share the sequence with the community.”
It should be noted that while providing public access to this information is great for research and educational purposes, it’s not going to facilitate any home-brewed versions of the COVID-19 vaccine. There’s still a lot that goes into making vaccinations that remains inaccessible to the public.
As Motherboard mentions, COVID-19 vaccines have been reverse-engineered before. In late 2020, the founder of PowerDNS, an open-source software provider, was able to the of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine using only information that was available online.