So much for ‘junk’ DNA
The full sequence of the human genome—some 3 billion base pairs, including 20,500 genes—was published in April 2003. Yet nearly 10 years on, we have yet to see evidence of any avalanche of new drugs that can capitalize on that knowledge and specifically interact with DNA at the molecular level.
Last week, the global scientific community found out why: DNA is even more complicated than we thought it was. A lot more.
Scientists were surprised to learn 10 years ago that less than 2% of the human genome held the genes that contain instructions for creating the proteins that form the body’s tissues. The other 98% seemed to be useless.
But a surfeit of studies published last week in Nature and other journals found that much of this so-called junk DNA actually serves to regulate when the 20,500 genes activate.
Reports in Bloomberg and the Washington Post explained how researchers have found at least 4 million genetic “switches” that play important underlying roles determining how and when genes operate, and more of these switches are expected to be discovered in coming years. Unraveling those genetic tools is the mission of Encore, an international consortium of researchers.
“What I am sure of is that this is the science for this century,” Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in England told the Washington Post. “In this century we will be working out how humans are made from this instruction manual.”