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article imageOp-Ed: Comeuppance for morons — Junk DNA isn’t junk, it’s vital

By Paul Wallis     Sep 5, 2012 in Science
Sydney - When the human genome was finished, early so-called researchers found a lot of DNA that didn’t seem to do anything. They therefore said it was junk. It turns out to be anything but junk. It’s all critical systems and gene switches.
No apologies if this article gets as patronizing and intolerant as all too many bombastic, conceited scientific pronouncements of omniscience usually are. They deserve it. This was atrocious logic, producing a “theory” based on nothing with no information to support it.
The ENCODE project
ENCODE is a huge international project coordinated by National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a part of the National Institutes of Health.
Science Daily describes the ENCODE project’s findings:
During the new study, researchers linked more than 80 percent of the human genome sequence to a specific biological function and mapped more than 4 million regulatory regions where proteins specifically interact with the DNA. These findings represent a significant advance in understanding the precise and complex controls over the expression of genetic information within a cell. The findings bring into much sharper focus the continually active genome in which proteins routinely turn genes on and off using sites that are sometimes at great distances from the genes themselves. They also identify where chemical modifications of DNA influence gene expression and where various functional forms of RNA, a form of nucleic acid related to DNA, help regulate the whole system.
Well, gosh. So this gigantic amount of living material in every single human being has some reason to exist, after all. How about that. And it took a major research project to find out what it does. Amazing, isn’t it? Gee, maybe if someone banged two rocks together, they’d make sparks. The sparks would be utterly useless, of course, according to someone.
The unbelievably stupid early verdict has always infuriated me. With the usual pretensions to omniscience of the most bloated academic hacks, most of the genome was dismissed by people claiming to be scientists. Any biologist could tell you that living organisms don’t lug around tons of garbage as standard equipment. There may be one or two obsolete bits and pieces, but not on these scales.
Try this for a bit of thinking- The actual DNA in a cell stretches for about 10 feet for a single cell if you unravel it. Therefore someone came up with a theory that most of it was useless? That was an actual theory, and it was accepted by other idiots for quite a while.
The amount of DNA that actually codes for genes is relatively small. The rest of it, in tight, complex clumps called “hairballs”, codes for gene switches, turning combinations of genes off and on. It may, in combinations of millions or billions of switches, do far more. Many machines, notably computers, are simply combinations of switches.
Now consider this-
The human being has been evolving at breakneck speeds for some time. There are indications of major evolutionary changes from as recently as 1000 years ago, let alone a few million. What would be the driving mechanism of that evolution? Academic theories, or hard organic facts?
Human DNA and chimp DNA is almost identical, except for a few percentage points. That’s what a relatively small amount of DNA can do. What role would gene switches play in that process? Turning on the juke box, or turning on major combinations of new options?
Humans are an ultra-adaptive species. That adaption has to function organically. Genes are the operating mechanisms for adaption. The adaptions can be quite drastic. Any questions?
A few questions:
If gene switches operate in banks, what can mega-combinations of switches do? “Damn near anything” would be one answer.
What combinations of switches do what?
Remote gene switches are activated, how?
If a scientist produces a theory with no information, is he an idiot, yes/no?
I don’t think I can even describe how annoying it was that a collection of highly qualified pompous buffoons could dismiss over 80% of the human genome without so much as a line of qualitative research. When I first saw the definition of “junk” DNA I couldn’t believe anyone could be so blasé about so much material.
Using a comparatively extremely primitive knowledge base and a total lack of information, they pronounced that what are now known to be major genetic regulatory systems didn’t exist. Almost immediately “gene switches” were discovered, and of course thanks to this idiotic theory of “junk” DNA, the actual mechanisms were shrouded in a useless definition of 80% of the genome. Counterproductive thinking, to say the least.
Maybe the ENCODE project will at least be a lesson in reality which science so obviously needs to learn:
You are not omniscient.
Your qualifications and claims to knowledge come from the past, not the future.
You’re paid and expected to ask questions, not come up with imbecilic statements based on nothing.
The highest values of science are exploration and innovation, not pedantry and insularity.
Remember that any competent scientist, anywhere on Earth, can always disprove crappy work and expose sloppy thinking.
It’s about time these boorish, browbeating bastards got a dose of themselves. I’ve seen students and researchers abused for their findings. I’ve seen corrupt work proving anything that vested interests want proven based on some of the worst research techniques imaginable. I’ve seen physicists get on every “Me too” bandwagon. Fools don’t have to be tolerated gladly or otherwise. In important work, they shouldn’t be tolerated at all.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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