What is mRNA, and how does it work?

mRNA is the key ingredient in COVID-19 vaccines. But what is it, and how does it work? Associate Professor John McGhee and his team at UNSW’s 3D Visualisation Aesthetics Lab have created a visually immersive 3D animation to explore mRNA’s role in our cells – and to show how it helps fight COVID-19. 

“My team specialises in making the invisible visible,” A/Prof. McGhee says. “Using the tools of animation and video games, we illuminate complex processes that happen at a small scale and aren’t typically seen by a lay audience.

“However, we’re careful to not simplify science to the point of abstraction - we’re always looking for that balance between making content accessible to a wide audience and staying true to the scientific complexity that underpins it all.”

Learn more about A/Prof. McGhee’s work in this Newsroom article.

Vaccines are only the tip of the iceberg in the range of RNA therapeutics that are revolutionising medicine. Follow UNSW’s YouTube channel for more 3D animations about RNA’s potential applications.


Producer & Art Director: John McGhee

Modelling, lighting, animation: Andrew Lilja, Senay Gürel

Simulation lead: Campbell Strong

Soundtrack: Ben Dudding, Drew Clarke

Narrator: Tegan Taylor

Scientific advisors: Pall Thordarson, Chantelle Ahlenstiehl

UNSW media team: Monica Melki, Isabelle Dubach, Lee Henderson