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No, COVID shots don’t change human DNA to a ‘triple helix’

October 5, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: COVID-19 mRNA vaccines alter recipients’ DNA by changing its shape to a “triple helix.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The vaccines do not edit humans’ DNA. Social media posts are misrepresenting a years-old Moderna patent application regarding RNA technology that was not specific to the vaccines.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are editing humans’ DNA, experts have told The Associated Press. The false claim, which has been shared repeatedly on social media, has surfaced again, this time in posts that allege the mRNA shots change DNA to a “triple helix.”

DNA is made of two linked strands that appear like a twisted ladder, referred to as a double helix. RNA is closely related to DNA, and one type, called messenger RNA or mRNA, sends instructions to the cell for different purposes. The mRNA in the COVID-19 vaccines helps train the body to recognize a protein from the coronavirus to trigger an immune response.

In one TikTok video that also appeared on Instagram, a woman claims: “The magic potion, if you actually read the patents, it is adding a triple helix.” She also claims that it adds cytosine, “which comes from a meteorite, or a fallen star.”

Another Instagram video claims that “this new technology they came out with introduces a third strand, through mRNA messaging technology it actually breaks a strand and puts in a third strand, which creates a triple helix.” Both videos baselessly posit that the vaccines are satanic.

But the videos distort the science, experts said.

The TikTok video attempts to back up its assertion by showing language from a Moderna patent application published in 2014 that at one point states: “According to the present invention, the nucleic acids, modified RNA or primary construct may be administered with, or further encode one or more of RNAi agents, siRNAs, shRNAs, miRNAs, miRNA binding sites, antisense RNAs, ribozymes, catalytic DNA, tRNA, RNAs that induce triple helix formation, aptamers or vectors, and the like.”

But Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the AP the patent document was discussing RNA presenting as a triple helix, not changing humans’ DNA to a triple helix.

“If you actually read the patent, it has nothing to do with forming a triple helix of the RNA therapeutic with the host DNA,” Kuritzkes said. It’s that the RNA molecule could theoretically form a triple helix, he said.

For certain therapeutic applications, a triple helical RNA could be useful, he said. The patent was broad and not specific to Moderna’s eventual COVID-19 vaccine.

“The messenger RNA from the vaccine does not form a triple helix, and it certainly doesn’t intercalate with the DNA to form a triple helix in any way,” Kuritzkes said. He called that claim a “complete fallacy.”

The TikTok video contains other incorrect information as well. For example, it claims that the DNA “helix is held together by sulfuric bonds.” But it’s actually hydrogen bonds that hold the DNA strands together, said Emily Bruce, an assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont.

That video also claims that cytosine “comes from meteorites.” Cytosine is a core building block of DNA and RNA that is naturally in humans. NASA researchers have reported finding cytosine and the other nucleobases that make up DNA and RNA in meteorites.

Experts emphasized that the mRNA in COVID-19 vaccines is not transforming humans’ DNA.

“There is no mechanism for them to alter anyone’s DNA,” Bruce said. “It’s something that’s temporarily translated into protein and then the body gets rid of it.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.