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The uses of junk DNA

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Study: MicroRNA fine-tunes brain synapses
BOSTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) — Scientists at Children’s Hospital Boston say they’ve found the first evidence that microRNAs have a role in the functioning of synapses in the brain.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/index.php?feed=Science&article=UPI-1-20060118-21395400-bc-us-synapses.xml

The researchers believe microRNAs fine-tune cognitive function, and may be relevant to mental retardation and autism.

The scientists explained that non-coding regions of the genome — those that don’t have instructions for building proteins — are now known to include important elements that regulate gene activity. Among such elements are microRNAs — tiny, recently discovered RNA molecules that suppress gene expression.

Increasing evidence indicates a role for microRNAs in the developing nervous system, and the Children’s Hospital Boston researchers have demonstrated that one microRNA affects the development of synapses — the points of communication between brain cells that underlie learning and memory.

“This paper provides the first evidence that microRNAs have a role at the synapse, allowing for a new level of regulation of gene expression,” said senior author Michael Greenberg, director of neuroscience at the hospital. “What we’ve found is a new mechanism for regulating brain function.”

The study is detailed in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Comments
FeederBottom: "Coded in our DNA is instructions on how to make a tail. That code gets actualized during our development. Coded in another section of DNA is instructions to dismantle that tail. This additional code makes the vestigial organ MORE complex than the functional organ, despite your earlier claim to the contrary. Hence, according to the hypotheses of ID, it must’ve been designed from the beginning as a vestigial organ. Now, the question is, how does ID explain such a scenario?" Well, first, how do you know that "coded in another section of DNA [are] instructions to dismantle that tail." You're just surmising. Is ID expected to "explain" your surmising? Next, why do you need a set of instructions to dismantle something? It might sophisticated plans and years of effort to raise a highrise, but you bring it down in seconds with well-placed explosives. More plainly, if the activation of the 'instructions' for a 'tail' involves a cascade of proteins, then if that cascade is turned off, then it's possible that other proteins--coming from another DNA sequence--takes control of the putative tail and transforms it to its own ends. So nothing more complex than a 'stop' message would be necessary for the dissolution of the tail.PaV
January 22, 2006
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"according to the hypotheses of ID, it must’ve been designed from the beginning as a vestigial organ. Now, the question is, how does ID explain such a scenario?" Before answering that question I'd want to modify the DNA to remove the sections that both create and dismantle these sections of vertebrae and see what the result is. But since that would require a possibly cruel case of human testing (if the baby turns out malformed) I doubt we'll ever be able to answer that question to anyone's satisfaction. Now we could just assume, as you are doing, that it is in fact a vestigial organ and work on a response from that end but we can give no certain answer.Patrick
January 20, 2006
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if these "quizzical Darwinists" are researching "junk" DNA, then they must suspect it has some purpose, which is what ID would predict. Also, are there really any vestigal organs? or just organs that we don't know the purpose for? i suppose there may exist organs (or structures) that no longer function, but this would seem to represent some type of biological entropy, not some kind of evolution towards a higher organism.jacktone
January 20, 2006
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DaveScot says: "The only question I saw was something about a spinal column with 32 vertebrae somehow being significantly more complex than one with 24 vertebrae. Are you saying that 32 is a more complex number than 24? Is that your final answer?" Wow! You're not even wrong, DaveScot. At the risk of repeating myself, let me try to explain the argument. Perhaps you can actually read it this time. I'll type slow to help you out. Coded in our DNA is instructions on how to make a tail. That code gets actualized during our development. Coded in another section of DNA is instructions to dismantle that tail. This additional code makes the vestigial organ MORE complex than the functional organ, despite your earlier claim to the contrary. Hence, according to the hypotheses of ID, it must've been designed from the beginning as a vestigial organ. Now, the question is, how does ID explain such a scenario? ajl says: "In the same way, by always raising the vestigial organ flag, doesn’t Darwinism do the same thing? If I don’t know what a particular organ does I say “I can’t conceive of a purpose”, then assume it must be vestigial. Doesn’t that stop science?" No, it doesn't stop science at all. Science doesn't sit on it's hands after drawing a blank. They try other avenues. Look at all the research that is going into Junk DNA. That research is being done by quizzical "Darwinists." The idea of vestigial organs is a prediction of evolution. And as far as I know ID doesn't say that evolution didn't happen, so I don't see what the problem is. We can look at the vestigial organs and help determine how species are related to each other. Those sorts of connections lead to greater understanding of our world, and isn't that what we're all arguing about? Science hasn't given up on anything, yet.Feederbottom
January 20, 2006
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I'm sorry, Feederbottom. I missed the place where you asked a serious question. The only question I saw was something about a spinal column with 32 vertebrae somehow being significantly more complex than one with 24 vertebrae. Are you saying that 32 is a more complex number than 24? Is that your final answer? Maybe you can get a research to determine which number is more complex. I still think a grant to find out if embyronic human tails wag when embryonic humans are happy is a better line of inquiry but of course it's your research and your decision.DaveScot
January 19, 2006
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"I would love to know what load bearing wall those extra tailbones in the human embryo support for a few weeks of that embryo’s development. I can’t conceive of a purpose" :-) - good one! But, the reality is, I can't conceive of a purpose, either. However, does this mean that you've 'given up'? ID folks are always told that when they can't figure out how a function works they say "it is IC". Therefore, ID gives up, and is a science stopper. In the same way, by always raising the vestigial organ flag, doesn't Darwinism do the same thing? If I don't know what a particular organ does I say "I can’t conceive of a purpose", then assume it must be vestigial. Doesn't that stop science? Imagine if those tailbones serve an important purpose, and with our Darwinian lens we flip the "vestigial organ bit" (akin to the bozo bit) and never discover its purpose because our Darwinian lens says "if I can't conceive of a purpose", it must not have a purpose, and is an evolutionary dead-end. I think there is some arrogance in that too: science should be more humble and be able to say "we don't know", rather than "since I can't conceive of a purpose, it must not have a purpose, and is just some evolutionary holdover". I don't think that science should give up so easily on the bacterial flagellum, nor should it give up on the tailbones you raise. The fun is finally discovering how something is put together, or what the purpose of something is. I think both sides are long way away from giving up on these issues.ajl
January 19, 2006
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DaveScot, That's your response to a serious question?Feederbottom
January 19, 2006
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feederbottom You should apply for a research grant to determine if the embryonic human tail wags when the embryonic human is happy.DaveScot
January 19, 2006
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But, as Dave indicated, vestigial organs are not a problem with ID - especially when it deals with the loss of functionality. That typically comes from an argument where people assume that ID rejects all forms of evolution, which it does not. -ajl Functionality does not equal complexity. If the vestigial organ IS more complex then its predecessor, then by ID hypotheses, it must've been designed that way. I would love to know what load bearing wall those extra tailbones in the human embryo support for a few weeks of that embryo's development. I can't conceive of a purpose, but I'm betting the brilliant scientists are the DI can come up with one. Anyone want to throw out some early guesses?Feederbottom
January 19, 2006
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"perhaps we should study this [tailbone development] process from the perspective that there is a reason to build it in this way. in my line of work (aircraft manufacturing) we build and dismantle extra structures as a matter of course." thats right. We're having a load bearing wall taken out, which requires the creation of two support walls on either side. Once the appropriate steel beam is put in place, the support walls get knocked out. It would indeed be interesting to look for some purpose for some of these vestigial organs. Perhaps some of them provide structure or support to other features. I heard Behe state that some junk DNA may actually be used for nothing else than structure or support. But, as Dave indicated, vestigial organs are not a problem with ID - especially when it deals with the loss of functionality. That typically comes from an argument where people assume that ID rejects all forms of evolution, which it does not.ajl
January 19, 2006
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perhaps we should study this [tailbone development] process from the perspective that there is a reason to build it in this way. in my line of work (aircraft manufacturing) we build and dismantle extra structures as a matter of course.jacktone
January 19, 2006
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ID doesn’t preclude devolution which is what vestigial organs are. This is a loss of complexity, not a gain. --DaveScot I've always been confused on the matter. Some vestigial organs are actually more complex than their evolutionairy predecessors. For example, the human embryo has 12 fully developing tailbones at 4-5 weeks, complete with it's version of the spinal cord. But, our DNA has extra information that makes the most of the tail get disassembled. And as we all know, the rest becomes the familiar tailbone. This creation and dismantling of the tail seems more complex than just the creation.Feederbottom
January 19, 2006
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You're mistaken, Mats. ID doesn't preclude devolution which is what vestigial organs are. This is a loss of complexity, not a gain.DaveScot
January 19, 2006
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As science advances, the number of "vestigial organs" and "junk DNA" gets smaller and smaller. True science advances further and further if it is not based on the false assumption that there are organs in biological machines that are there for no use at all. If I am not mistaken, one of the predictions of ID is that there shouldn't be any vestigial organs, isn't it so ?Mats
January 19, 2006
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To clarify, the more of the genome that is shown to be functional, the smaller the probability associated with any event E meeting the functional specification. It would be interesting indeed to find out, eventually, that most of the genome is, indeed, functionally specified.jaredl
January 19, 2006
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