Over on the WIRED website there's a discussion about the article on junk DNA [One Scientist's Junk Is a Creationist's Treasure]. In the comments section, the author Catherine Shaffer responds to my recent posting about her qualifications [see WIRED on Junk DNA]. She says,
You might be interested to learn that I contacted Larry Moran while working on this article and after reading the archives of his blog. I wanted to ask him to expand upon his assertion that junk DNA disproves intelligent design. His response was fairly brief, did not provide any references, and did not invite further discussion. It's interesting that he's now willing to write a thousand words or so about how wrong I am publicly, but was not able to engage this subject privately with me.Catherine Shaffer sent me a brief email message where she mentioned that she had read my article on Junk DNA Disproves Intelligent Design Creationism. She wanted to know more about this argument and she wanted references to those scientists who were making this argument. Ms. Shaffer mentioned that she was working on an article about intelligent design creationism and junk DNA.
I responded by saying that the presence of junk DNA was expected according to evolution and that it was not consistent with intelligent design. I also said that, "The presence of large amounts of junk DNA in our genome is a well established fact in spite of anything you might have heard in the popular press, which includes press releases." She did not follow up on my response.
His blog post is inaccurate in a couple of ways. First, I did not make the claim, and was very careful to avoid doing so, that “most” DNA is not junk. No one knows how much is functional and how much is not, and none of my sources would even venture to speculate upon this, not even to the extent of “some” or “most.”Her article says, "Since the early '70s, many scientists have believed that a large amount of many organisms' DNA is useless junk. But recently, genome researchers are finding that these "noncoding" genome regions are responsible for important biological functions." Technically she did not say that most DNA is not junk. She just strongly implied it.
I find it difficult to believe that Ryan Gregory would not venture to speculate on the amount of junk DNA but I'll let him address the validity of Ms. Shaffer's statement.
Moran also mistakenly attributed a statement to Steven Meyer that Meyer did not make.I can see why someone might have "misunderstood" my reference to what Myer said so I've edited my posting to make it clear.
Judmarc and RickRadditz—Here is a link to the full text of the genome biology article on the opossum genome: Regulatory conservation of protein coding and microRNA genes in vertebrates: lessons from the opossum genome. We didn't have space to cover this in detail, but in essence what the researchers found was that upstream intergenic regions were more highly conserved in the possum compared to coding regions, but also represented a greater area of difference between possums and humans.This appears to be a reference to the paper she was discussing in her article. It wasn't at all clear to me that this was the article she was thinking about in the first few paragraphs of her WIRED article.
Interested readers might want to read the comment by "Andrea" over on the WIRED site.
So, yes, this does run counter to the received wisdom, which makes it fascinating. You are right that the discussion of junk vs. nonjunk and conserved vs. nonconserved is much more nuanced, and we really couldn't do it justice in this space. Here is another reference you might enjoy that begins to deconstruct even our idea of what conservation means: “Conservation of RET regulatory function from human to zebrafish without sequence similarity.” Science. 2006 Apr 14;312(5771):276-9. Epub 2006 Mar 23. Revjim—If you have found typographical errors in the copy, please do point them out to us. The advantage of online publication is that we do get a chance to correct these after publication.Sounds to me like Catherine Shaffer is grasping at straws (or strawmen).
For Katharos and others—I interviewed five scientists for this article. Dr. Francis Collins, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. Steve Meyers, Dr. T. Ryan Gregory, and Dr. Gill Bejerano. Each one is a gentleman and a credentialed expert either in biology or genetics. I am grateful to all of them for their time and kindness.I think we all know just how "credentialed" Stephen Meyer is. He has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science. Most of us are familiar with the main areas of expertise of Michael Behe and none of them appear to be science.