Junk DNA Not So Junky After All

Picture: Annso2505 (CC)

Surprise, surprise: we don’t know everything about the human genome just yet.

A five-year project called ENCODE, for “Encyclopedia of DNA Elements,” found that about 80 percent of the human genome is biologically active, influencing how nearby genes are expressed and in which types of cells. It’s not junk DNA, which was previously thought — instead, these non-coding regions of DNA could have major bearing on diseases and genetic mutations, researchers say.

The project will rewrite the textbooks, turning the architectural blueprint of the human genome into a control schematic and instruction manual that explains how genes turn on and off. These rules dictate anything from embryonic development to the process of aging.

Of course, developing a working knowledge of the genetic “instruction manual” could be used for good or evil: Cures for the genetic diseases that have plagued mankind forever, or phenome-targeted biological weapons and Gene-tweaked super soldiers?


14 Comments on "Junk DNA Not So Junky After All"

  1. TennesseeCyberian | Sep 10, 2012 at 2:56 pm |

    This has interesting implications for evolutionary theory, particularly the mainstream Darwinian argument against evidence of intelligent design.  Just as the blind spot in the eye was considered evidence of piecemeal “design,” so Darwinian proponents cited so-called “junk DNA” as evidence that evolution is an inefficient, accident-prone, and yet somehow effective process.

    Now that it has been shown that around 80% of the genetic code is functional, that argument is toast.  Since scientists have only fully investigated the function of non-protein-coding regions in (from memory) about 147 types of cells, it is quite likely that studies on the thousands of other cells will show that closer to 100% of DNA is functional.  That’s pretty solid efficiency.

    Also, as I understand it, the approximately 98% kinship humans have with chimpanzees is based on protein-coding regions.  I wonder how species-specific the remainder will prove to be.

    • I always thought the only argument against intelligent design you needed is that the argument starts from the conclusion rather than from the evidence.

      • TennesseeCyberian | Sep 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm |

        There are tons of good arguments against Intelligent Design, but you make an excellent point.

        Your statement is true in many instances, but many ID advocates and Darwin critics argue from the other direction. And of course, there are Darwinians (Darwin not included) who argue their cases by beginning with materialism and working back to the most likely causes of life.

        Either way, I’d say that the direction of reasoning is less important than supporting facts. If I’m not mistaken, even Einstein intuited the theory of relativity before formulating and supporting the equation.

        •  good arguments against intelligent design? I hope someday mankind sees the pathetic nature of that sentence. it really cracks me up to think we are that ignorant.

          • especially when we feel the need to believe that by some equation that we have come up with. Common sense will tell you alone. I remember university teaching us that aliens could not exist cause of an equation that someone came up with.
            our species is one pathetic confused animal. even the most common sense stuff (even tho we might not be able to explain it) seems to be turned around into this bizarre fantasy we think we have all the answers to.

  2. This is really funny because just today I read an article on the same subject. Except its main topic is about how changing definitions warp our understandings of things, and that “80%” figure is… speculative at best.


    Given, of course, my gut goes with the idea that there is very little in the genome that can be defined as “junk” and should more properly be defined as “unknown”.

    Theres also the consideration of genetics effecting things outside the simple maintenance of the organism itself, and effects its environment. For example, If i remember right, rice has a huge amount of genetic information in comparison to humans, and there’s the possibility that much of its genetic information serves only a purpose after its been consumed.


    • Sandy Squatch | Sep 10, 2012 at 8:06 pm |

      Famous Last Words:

      “And I had so many spare parts left over!”

    • steve steve | Sep 11, 2012 at 9:52 am |

       OMG dude your reply is longer than the article. We don’t care. No no really we all got together and agreed you talk to much. A response should never be longer than one third of what the article is. See I’m not even 1/3 of you wrote.

  3. Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm |

    Interesting theory on junk DNA by Graham Hancock.


  4. I didn’t realize this was news.  I recall learning similar in a microbiology class several years ago.  It’s nothing new.  This happens again and again in our exploration of our bodies and even the universe – that things once thought to serve no purpose have a purpose, and that empty spaces aren’t so empty. 

    • Calypso_1 | Sep 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm |

      Your right, it’s nothing new, these ‘junk’ regions have been being picked apart for a while – it takes time. Scientists don’t actually sit around thinking about those regions as ‘junk’, just unexplored or not fitting into current models.  Yes , there are parts of DNA that are detritus, left overs, etc.  But no one has truly thought that all these unexplored areas are anything but that. 
      Most scientists work on incredibly specific tasks.  No one wants to talk about Interleukin 6-mediated up-regulation of bcl-xL.  It’s the media that picks up on buzzwords and runs with them,  no different than ‘God Particle’  or ‘Global Warming’ without having an underlying comprehension of what the scientific work really is…because neither does the majority of the public who are woefully uneducated in the sciences.  

  5. Jesus Borg | Sep 11, 2012 at 9:26 am |

    I think intelligent design makes sense. Atheists just get all paranoid about it. But depending on how you define “intelligent” and “design” it could mean any number of things. I just think of it as the genome has having some fucking clue as to what is going on as it goes along, accumulated from millions of years of “expiriments”

    That makes a lot of people uncomfortable that would prefer everything to be basically a dead mindless machine, outside their own mind in their little solipsitic atheist fantasy land.

Comments are closed.