From Adam Hargreaves at New Scientist,
No doubt you have heard of dark matter, which is thought to make up over a quarter of the universe. We know it’s there; we just haven’t been able to detect it. Well, something similar is afoot in the genome. My colleagues and I have dubbed this elusive genetic matter “dark DNA”. And our investigations into the sand rat are starting to reveal its nature.
The discovery of dark DNA is so recent that we are still trying to work out how widespread it is and whether it benefits those species that possess it. However, its very existence raises some fundamental questions about genetics and evolution. We may need to look again at how adaptation occurs at the molecular level. Controversially, dark DNA might even be a driving force of evolution. (paywall) More.
Indeed. As evolution becomes more history and less religion, the driving forces of evolution are becoming as numerous and varied as those of World War II.
The obvious question is not whether dark DNA matters. If we are not diehard fans of Darwinian “junk DNA” (the supposed vast heaps of rubbish left over from random evolution*), we will simply assume that dark DNA matters.
The question with evolution, seen as a history, is one of mechanism. As Michael Behe would ask, what exactly does dark DNA do? For example, does it assist epigenetics, horizontal gene transfer, hybridization, convergent evolution, devolution… Or another, as yet undiscovered, function?
See also: Could “dark DNA” change the way we think about evolution?
Researcher: Best educated guesses fail with plant evolution “There is still a lot we don’t know about why life is the way it is and how most biological process originated,” said Dr. Cardona. “Sometimes our best educated guesses don’t even come close to representing what really happened so long ago.”
What the fossils told us in their own words
* See also: “Junk” RNA helps regulate metabolism
Junk DNA defender just isn’t doing politeness any more.
Anyone remember ENCODE? Not much junk DNA? Still not much. (Paper is open access.)
Yes, Darwin’s followers did use junk DNA as an argument for their position.
Another response to Darwin’s followers’ attack on the “not-much-junk-DNA” ENCODE findings