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Monday, April 04, 2022

If you were a Harvard freshman you could take a course on the dark matter of the genome.

Check out this freshperson seminar course on Parts Unknown: The Dark Matter of the Genome at Harvard. It is offfered by Amanda J. Whipple of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. She works on noncoding RNAs in the brain. Harvard likes to think of itself as one of the top universities in the world so this seminar course must be an example of world class critical thinking.

Heaven help us if this is what future American leaders are being taught.

Did you know that genes, traditionally defined as DNA encoding protein, only account for two percent of the entire human genome? What is the purpose of the remaining 98% of the genome? Is it simply “junk DNA”? This seminar will explore the large portion of our genome that has been neglected by scientists for many years because its purpose was not known. We will examine research findings which demonstrate non-coding sequences, previously assigned as “junk DNA”, play crucial roles in the development and maintenance of a healthy organism. We will further discuss how these non-coding sequences are promising targets for drug design and disease diagnosis. We will then visit a local research laboratory (either virtually or in person as deemed appropriate) and engage with active scientists regarding the scientific research enterprise.

A thorough understanding of the human genome not only provides a foundation for any student interested in the life sciences, it enables one to engage more deeply in related political and societal debates, which is expected to become even more central as scientists further uncover the dark matter of our genomes.

Setting aside the sarcasm, how did we get to a stage where a prominent researcher at one of the top research universities in the world could write such a course description?

1 comment :

John Harshman said...

Do any molecular biologists read Sandwalk? What do they end up thinking about all this? How many of them have ever heard of Motoo Kimura, and if so what do they think about his work? What do they learn in the course of their graduate educations?

Molecular systematists tend to like junk DNA because it's more tractable to model-based analysis, and the models generally assume neutrality. And we also learn tests for selection, which doesn't seem to be something molecular biologists talk about either.