Readers may recall that Larry Moran, an evolutionary biologist who used to comment here (not very favorably, but hey) is writing a book asserting that 99% of DNA is junk. A recent blog post took after an MIT biologist, Rick Young:
He was interviewed by Jorge Conde and Hanne Winarsky on a recent podcast (Feb. 1, 2021) where the main topic was “From Junk DNA to an RNA Revolution.” They get just about everything wrong when they talk about junk DNA including the Central Dogma, historical estimates of the number of genes, confusing noncoding DNA with junk, alternative splicing, the number of functional RNAs, the amount of regulatory DNA, and assuming that scientists in the 1970s were idiots.Larry Moran, “MIT Professor Rick Young doesn’t understand junk DNA” at Sandwalk (May 10, 2021)
This from the pod summary of the show featuring Rick Young:
Much of this so-called junk DNA actually encodes RNA—which we now know has all sorts of incredibly important roles in the cell, many of which were previously thought of as only the domain of proteins. This conversation is all about what we know about what that non-coding genome actually does: how RNA works to regulate all kinds of different gene expression, cell types, and functions; how this has dramatically changed our understanding of how disease arises; and most importantly, what this means we can now do—programming cells, tuning functions up or down, or on or off. What we once thought of as “junk” is now giving us a powerful new tool in intervening in and treating disease—bringing in a whole new category of therapies.
Anyway, Moran goes on to say,
This is a very serious question. It’s the most difficult question I discuss in my book. Why has the false narrative about junk DNA, and many other things, dominated the scientific literature and become accepted dogma among leading scientists? Soemething is seriously wrong with science.Larry Moran, “MIT Professor Rick Young doesn’t understand junk DNA” at Sandwalk (May 10, 2021)
What’s “wrong,” so far as the rest of us can see, is that researchers keep finding new functions that formerly-junk DNA performs, so they keep looking. For the same reasons as fisherfolk return to the well-stocked lake.
See also: Larry Moran to write new book: Claims genome is 99% junk. If he wants to pick a fight with ENCODE, grab a seat.
We are encouraged to celebrate ENCODE III and the demise of junk DNA.
Did beliefs about junk DNA hinder the Human Genome Project?