The Award Reviewing Committee commented that Professor Mattick’s “work on long non-coding RNA has dramatically changed our concept of 95% of our genome”, and that he has been a “true visionary in his field; he has demonstrated an extraordinary degree of perseverance and ingenuity in gradually proving his hypothesis over the course of 18 years.”I wrote an lengthy post explaining why this award was not justified [John Mattick Wins Chen Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in Human Genetic and Genomic Research]. I don't think Mattick is correct. Here's are some of the reasons why: [How Much Junk in the Human Genome?] [Genome Size, Complexity, and the C-Value Paradox] [Basic Concepts: The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology].
Mattick is interested in the evolution of complexity. For example, he wants to know why humans are much more complex than nematodes. Mattick was one of those scientists who expected that the human genome would contain many more genes than the nematode genome in spite of all evidence to the contrary [see Facts and Myths Concerning the Historical Estimates of the Number of Genes in the Human Genome]. When the human genome sequence was published he was shocked to learn that humans had the same number of genes as most other multicellular organisms. I refer to this as: The Deflated Ego Problem.
& Junk DNAScientists have come up with many ways of explaining the apparent discrepancy between complexity and the number of genes. The correct explanation is, of course, that the differences between nematodes and humans are more apparent than real. Only a small number of extra genes are required to make a human and the rest is mostly due to regulation by transcription factors at the level of transcription initiation.
Mattick doesn't think this is correct. He believes that the secret lies in "junk" DNA. His preferred explanation is that most non-coding DNA is transcribed to produce thousands of small regulatory RNAs involved in controlling the expression of the protein-coding genes.
John Mattick achieved a certain level of notoriety when he published a paper in Scientific American back in 2004. He claimed that complexity correlates with the amount of non-coding DNA in the genome and he illustrated this idea with the famous figure shown on the left.
This is the figure that Ryan Gregory labeled Dog's Ass Plot. Read his post to find out how many ways it is wrong.
Mattick is one of the most vocal opponents of junk DNA. He explains his point of view in the video (below). There's a transcript on the BMC Biology website at Non-coding RNAs and eukaryotic evolution - a personal view. Do you find his arguments compelling?
Mattick, J.S. (2004) The hidden genetic program of complex organisms. Sci Am. 291:60-67.