Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Paul Nelson: Junk DNA is one of those propositions that have “just about the worst track record” in biology.


With respect to “A “junk DNA” jumping gene is critical for embryo cell development, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson writes to say,

In personal correspondence over the past couple of years with a tenured geneticist at a major university who is a “junk DNA” proponent, I’ve pointed out that “x has no function” propositions in biology have just about the worst track record one can imagine.

File:DNA simple.svg

Namely, the propositions lead nowhere (empirically), and sit in a forlorn dim corner with other such propositions, waiting to be overturned by research. One doesn’t need to be an ID proponent to see that natural scientific curiosity will have investigators poking at apparent junk, wondering what it might be doing. As expressed beautifully in the NPR news story by the senior author on the Cell paper:

“It seemed like a waste of this real estate in our genome — and in our cells — to have these elements and not have them there for any particular purpose,” Ramalho-Santos says. “So we just asked a very simple question: Could they be doing something that’s actually beneficial?”


Both Larry Moran and Dan Graur (and some other junk DNA cheerleaders) simply don’t want anyone looking for function in these seemingly junky regions. That’s a wish that will necessarily be unfulfilled. Once curiosity is activated, you can’t shut it off.

It’s one thing to be at war with the ID folk; it’s another to be at war with a basic tendency among bio researchers: To find out what something really does. If it isn’t junk, they’ll find out.

Another friend wants to know what Dan Graur, a junk DNA champion, is thinking about the recent find. We’ll try to find out but we’ve learned that he just isn’t doing politeness any more.

See also: A “junk DNA” jumping gene is critical for embryo cell development Researcher asks: “Could they be doing something that’s actually beneficial?” To understand why no one wondered before, one must understand the power of Darwinian groupthink, enforced by wrecking careers. In short, ID guys Jonathan Wells was right and Richard Dawkins was wrong.

These considerations suggest that up to 20% of the genome is actively used and the remaining 80+% is junk. But being junk doesn’t mean it is entirely useless. Common sense suggests that anything that is completely useless would be discarded. There are several possible functions for junk DNA.
--- Comings, D.E. (1972) "The structure and function of chromatin", Advances in Human Genetics 3: 237-431 Quaesitor
Here was Larry Moran and Dan Graur's reaction to ENCODE research when it came out a few years back: "Nothing to see here" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSjK2Oqrgic bornagain77

Leave a Reply