For many of us, an important characteristic of science is self-correction. We are proud of the way new findings catalyse re-evaluation and, if corrections are needed, the development of new knowledge. If you are like this, be prepared to be shocked when you read Jonathan Wells’ latest book. The concept of Junk DNA was widely held by evolutionary biologists during the 1990s, but only a few were prepared to expose the hypothesis to tests of its validity. Yet this is when publications started to accumulate that reported functionality in genetic material widely regarded as “nonsense”. Instead of alerting popularisers of science to be cautious, these writers treated the new data as unrepresentative exceptions. They pressed on with their claim that the bulk of the genome is useless. The trickle of challenging research findings became a stream, but the ‘consensus’ about junk DNA was not corrected. The stream became a river, but still the much-needed correction was lacking. Here is Richard Dawkins’ comment from The Ancestor’s Tale (2004, page 22):
“DNA differs from written language in that islands of sense are separated by a sea of nonsense, never transcribed. ‘Whole’ genes are assembled, during transcription, from meaningful ‘exons’ separated by meaningless ‘introns’ whose texts are simply skipped by the reading apparatus. And even meaningful stretches of DNA are in many cases never read -presumably they are superseded copies of once useful genes that hang around like early drafts of a chapter on a cluttered hard disk. Indeed, the image of the genome as an old hard disk, badly in need of a spring clean, is one that will serve us from time to time during the book.”
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