Sunday 'junk' discussion

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I spend a small part of Sunday morning reading an extended and informed Internet discussion about (so called) Junk DNA and the rival claims made by research groups about the idea of junk, and each other.  You can find, and follow, it here.

The Observer article begins:

It was the scientific surprise of 2012.  Researchers announced they had found that long stretches of human DNA – previously dismissed as "junk" – were in fact crucial to the working of our bodies.  The assumption that our cells are controlled by only a few genes was wrong.  Scientists on the Encode project – an international public consortium researching the human genome – argued that most of our DNA has a part to play.  But this idea is now the subject of an astonishingly vitriolic attack from other scientists, who say that Encode's "absurd" ideas are the work of people who know nothing about evolutionary biology.  "News concerning the death of junk DNA has been greatly exaggerated," they insist.  The row divides scientists over the most fundamental of questions – is most of our DNA devoid of purpose or does it play a major role in our cells?  The debate has been triggered by a critique in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal that is striking for its strident language.

I'm normally wary of reading the long discussion threads that follow such articles as too frequently they descend into I'll-informed opinion ( ie, prejudice ) and abuse.  I'd recommend the Wiltshire Times if this is to your taste.  However, I'm pleased I persevered with the junk story as it was not only informative in its own right, it illustrated methodological and practical issues inherent in this sort of research and critique.  It was also a good example of how the Internet has enabled these rich discussions.  I wish 'our field' (if that is what it is) had more of them, on SHED-SHARE, for example.

In the end, of course, although I was slightly better informed, I really wasn't much the wiser.  Ah well, ... .  Still time for an alternative career?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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