Is There Such a Thing as ‘Junk DNA’?

Proponents of Darwinian Evolution have been faced with exceptionally knotty problems since the discovery of the complexities of DNA. How can the 3.2 billion ‘letters’ of this remarkable code have arrived by undirected processes and yet result in such efficient, intricate, and exquisite organisation?

Molecular biologist Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double-helix of DNA, once called the 97% of unknown coding in the DNA molecule ‘junk.’ Evolutionist Susumu Ohno used this term in his paper So Much ‘Junk’ DNA in Our Genome.

The phrase stuck.

Evolutionists since then have waxed eloquent on the beauties of the process of evolution, whilst dismissing the 97% of DNA as left-over material; i.e. left-over by previous incarnations of the evolving creature.

Many have seen this as “evidence of evolution.”

What would happen if biologists found a use for this 97% of ‘junk’? Would this not be another discovery that diminishes their faith in the truth of Darwinian Evolution?

Well computational biologist Ewan Birney, of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, England — who led a team of more than 400 ENCODE scientists working on annotating the genome — has done much work on the 97% of commonly-called ‘junk.’ He concluded:

“The ENCODE project has revealed a landscape that is absolutely teeming with important genetic elements — a landscape that used to be dismissed as ‘junk DNA.'”

Birney was asked ‘Should we be retiring the phrase “junk DNA” now?’ He responded:

“Yes, I really think this phrase does need to be totally expunged from the lexicon. It was a slightly throwaway phrase to describe very interesting phenomena that were discovered in the 1970s. I am now convinced that it’s just not a very useful way of describing what’s going on.”

Further, scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research, working on genetic variations within parts of the genome, have concluded that, far from being ‘junk,’ the DNA sequences regulate gene activity elsewhere by forming DNA loops across relatively large distances (by microsopic standards, that is). These findings have implications for fighting cancer.

Mathematical biologist Joshua Plotkin wrote, in Nature magazine:

“The sheer existence of these exotic regulators suggests that our understanding about the most basic things … is incredibly naive.”

Recently, a team of scientists working at Nucleic Acids Research came to the same conclusion regarding the many strands of DNA in this ‘junk’ area that are repeated, letter for letter. They concluded that these sequences are important gene modifiers, with some parts controlling how and to what extent the genes are used. They also found they are a source of genetic variations that help to produce the abundant variety within species.

Has this in any way slowed down the progress of science? Molecular biologist Wojciech Makalowski said that the thinking which led some to use the phrase ‘junk DNA’ “…repelled mainstream researchers from studying noncoding [junk] DNA,” with the exception of a small number of scientists, who, “at the risk of being ridiculed, explore unpopular territories. Because of them, the view of junk DNA … began to change in the early 1990s.” Now, he says, biologists generally regard what was called junk “as a genomic treasure.”

And John S. Mattick, director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Australia, said that the hasty acceptance of the “junk” DNA theory is “a classic story of orthodoxy derailing objective analysis of the facts, in this case for a quarter of a century.” He added that this “may well go down as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology.”


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