The stretches of DNA between genes, littered with repeating sequences, were once considered the “junk of the genome,” but scientists are learning that some of this junk is far from harmless clutter.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center report in the journal Cell Reports that certain short, repetitive sequences of DNA, or “junk,” play an important role in the development of Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone and soft tissue cancer that occurs most commonly in children and adolescents.
“Some people may still think of these non-coding sequences as junk; that they don’t really do anything but act as hangers-on to the more famous parts of the genome,” said the study’s senior author Ian J. Davis, MD, PHD, a pediatric oncologist and researcher at UNC Lineberger and the Denman Hammond Associate Professor in Childhood Cancer at the UNC School of Medicine. “But we found that repetitive elements contribute to cancer development for Ewing sarcoma based on traits that they share with immature cells.” Paper. (public access) – Nicholas C. Gomez et al. Widespread Chromatin Accessibility at Repetitive Elements Links Stem Cells with Human Cancer. Cell Reports, November 2016 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.10.011 More.
Obviously, junk does not have a “dark side,” unless you think that the stuff in your closet that you should have taken to the thrift will ambush you.
Seriously, a lot of time has been wasted on Darwinian claims about junk DNA. It is good we are now starting to get more of the real story, even the parts of it we don’t like.
See also: Our junk DNA hard at work: “Pseudo-pseudo genes” division
All junk, no junk, who’ll give a buck for junk – thoughts on junk DNA
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