The ID community, including many writers here at UD, has been predicting for years that so-called junk DNA would be found to be functional. The Darwinists have scoffed. Now ID proponents are being vindicated. My prediction: The Darwinists will change their story to “we’ve been saying this all along.”
The Washington Post reports on the breakthrough research published in Nature.
Most of a person’s genetic risk for common diseases such as diabetes, asthma and hardening of the arteries appears to lie in the shadowy part of the human genome once disparaged as “junk DNA.”
Indeed, the vast majority of human DNA seems to be involved in maintaining individuals’ well being — a view radically at odds with what biologists have thought for the past three decades.
Those are among the key insights of a nine-year project to study the 97 percent of the human genome that’s not, strictly speaking, made up of genes.
The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, nicknamed Encode, is the most comprehensive effort to make sense of the totality of the 3 billion nucleotides that are packed into our cells.
The project’s chief discovery is the identification of about 4 million sites involved in regulating gene activity. Previously, only a few thousand such sites were known. In all, at least 80 percent of the genome appears to be active at least sometime in our lives. Further research may reveal that virtually all of the DNA passed down from generation to generation has been kept for a reason.
“This concept of ‘junk DNA’ is really not accurate. It is an outdated metaphor,” said Richard Myers of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Alabama.
Myers is one of the leaders of the project, involving more than 400 scientists at 32 institutions.
Another Encode leader, Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Britain, said: “The genome is just alive with stuff. We just really didn’t realize that beforehand.”
“What I am sure of is that this is the science for this century,” he said. “In this century, we will be working out how humans are made from this instruction manual.”
The new insights are contained in six papers published Wednesday in the journal Nature. More than 20 related papers are appearing elsewhere. . .
The new research helps explain how so few genes can create an organism as complex as a human being. The answer is that regulation — turning genes on and off at different times in different types of cells, adjusting a gene’s output and coordinating its activities with other genes — is where most of the action is. . . .
In one paper, a team led by Thomas R. Gingeras of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York reported that three-quarters of the genome’s DNA is “transcribed” into a related molecule, RNA, at some point in life. A small amount of that RNA is then “translated” into protein. Much of the rest appears to have gene-regulating activities that remain to be discovered.
In a telephone conference call with reporters, several of the researchers likened the 4 million regulatory sites to electrical switches in a hugely complex wiring diagram.
By turning switches on and off, and varying the duration of their activity, a nearly infinite number of circuits can be formed. Similarly, by activating and modulating gene function, immensely complicated events such as the development of a brain cell or a liver cell from the same starting materials is possible.