Mullberry Whine

poured out before bed

What I Read Wednesday: Junk Schmunk

…the plot thickens (Brussels Zonienwoud, by Donar Reiskoffer)…

At 1pm this Wednesday, dogma suddenly changed.

I love it when dogma changes.

It’s a pleasantly swift kick in the gut reminding us of the inexplicable complexity and beauty that is our world. It’s a stoking of that fire, that passion for new knowledge, new scientific understanding.

This Wednesday, a whopping 30 papers were together released, a straight line wind uprooting that tree in the forest of knowledge which at it’s pinnacle read, “Only 2% of the human genome is functional – the rest is junk DNA.”  A sapling stands in it’s place, it’s leaves seeking the blazing sun of scientific scrutiny, spelling out, “More than 80% of the human genome has function.”

Genomics is a subject that has fascinated me from day one of my educational dabblings in molecular biology.  I’m excited now to watch this new tree – the evidence it represents – grow.  I’m interested to witness all that we learn from our forays into the millions of base pairs which compose us, how it will change our understanding of disease and inform it’s management, it’s prevention, even.  I’m interested to see how these discoveries paired with whole genome sequencing will effect the practice of medicine, taking us from a reactionary practice to a more prospective one. And I’m very interested to see how very quickly all of this may take place, as we collectively travel the road from description to actionability.

Here you’ll find a link to the NYT report on these stunning scientific findings.  If words escape you, NPR has some to help you wrap your brain around these new studies.  If you’re searching for yet more, you can learn about the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements or ENCODE, the consortium of scientists responsible for this ground (and dogma) breaking research. (The National Human Genome Research Institute also has an ENCODE project description).  And if you’re up for a little ‘light’ reading, ENCODE has graciously provided free access to their original research articles.

Now, excuse me whilst I soak in all the new sequences…


4 comments on “What I Read Wednesday: Junk Schmunk

  1. kindredspirit23
    September 7, 2012

    Well, I won’t be reading it, but I did see the original results and I knew that 2% quote was ridiculous. They even mentioned that in the article I was reading. If we were wrong about the 2%, then changing any of that could do almost anything to the other 80% and we wouldn’t know it until it happened. Glad they decided to re-figure that before giving us that cure-all cocktail.

    • mullberrywhine
      September 7, 2012

      It’s really fascinating! Only about 2% of the genome actually encodes genes, which are eventually transcribed and translated into the proteins that make up and those that zip about the cell making it work. The other 80ish% now deemed functional? Regulatory sequences – sequences which serve to switch things on and off and control how and when and in what quantity and in what order the 2% – the genes – are expressed. It’s really quite wonderful.

      • kindredspirit23
        September 7, 2012

        So, perhaps, my sugar intake and insulin usage are managed by the 80% that are well understood yet?

        • mullberrywhine
          September 7, 2012

          If only it were that easy…oh, how wily, the diabetes… 😉

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