Scientists build anew on remains of junk DNA theory

The genetic “control panel” of the human body that regulates the activity of our 23,000 genes has been revealed for the first time in a scientific tour de force that could revolutionise the understanding and treatment of hundreds of diseases.

Scientists have once and for all swept away any notion of “junk DNA” by showing that that the vast majority of the human genome does after all have a vital function by regulating the genes that build and maintain the body.

Junk DNA was a term coined 40 years ago to describe the part of the genome that does not contain any genes, the individual instructions for making the body’s vital proteins. Now, this vast genetic landscape could hold hidden clues to eradicating human disease, scientists said.

Hundreds of researchers from 32 institutes around the world collaborated on the immense effort to decipher the hidden messages within the 98 per cent of the human genome without any genes and was thought, therefore, to have no function.

They have concluded in a series of 30 research papers published simultaneously today, in Nature, Science and other journals, that this so-called junk DNA is in fact an elaborate patchwork of regulatory sequences that act as a huge operating system for controlling the genome

“We see that 80 per cent of the genome is actively doing something. We found that a much bigger part of the genome – a surprising amount in fact – is involved in controlling when and where proteins are produced,” Dr. Ewen Birney said.

Defects in this part of the genome could be responsible for a range of illnesses, from diabetes and Crohn’s disease to disorders of the immune system, such as lupus. Knowing about them could lead to a fundamental reappraisal of what goes wrong in scores of difficult conditons, said John Stamatoyannopoulous of Washington University in Seattle, another leader of the consortium.

Bravo! As happens so often, study and experimentation pries away prominence of a small body of knowledge only to open the door to new studies magnitudes larger and broader. Gonna need more molecular biologists, gang.

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