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Friday, June 21, 2024

"Enlightened" scientist at the University of Colorado busts the myth that all non-coding DNA is junk!

We've known for 60 years that some non-coding DNA has a function but the latest generation of scientists thinks this was only discovered in their lifetime. Writer Kara Mason posts an article on the Department of Biomedical Informatics website at the University of Colorado.

No Longer Useless: The Important Roles of ‘Junk DNA’

The myth that non-coding DNA sequences have no biological significance has been busted, explains CU research instructor Iain Konigsberg, PhD.

When geneticists started mapping the human genome, they were specifically interested in learning about genes and what they do. Everything else they deemed as “junk DNA.”

But as the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

So-called junk DNA makes up the vast majority of the genome — about 98% — and consists of non-coding DNA, which scientists now see as vital to studying human health and disease.

“In modern, more enlightened times, we realize that while genes, the protein-coding units of the genome, are very important, they cannot perform their jobs without the very complex regulatory functions of non-coding regions of the genome,” explains Iain Konigsberg, PhD, research instructor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

He shares what exactly junk DNA is and why associating non-coding DNA with junk no longer makes sense in the world of disease research.

The rest of the article is a series of questions and answers where research instructor Iain Konigsberg poses as an expert on junk DNA. You might infer from the introduction that Konigsberg doesn't understand the history of the field and you would be right. He claims that all non-coding DNA was originally declared to be junk but, according to him, we have now learned that some noncoding DNA is involved in regulating gene expression and 3D chromosome structure.

Iain Konigsberg got his PhD at the University of Colorado in 2021. He claims that today's "enlightened" researchers know about regulatory sequences in contrast with old fuddy-duddies like Jacques Monod and François Jacob who got the Nobel Prize in 1965 for their work on regulatory sequences! How is it possible that he believes the myth that all non-coding was once thought to be junk? The scientific literature is available to anyone who wants to look it up. It's very clear that the idea of junk DNA became popular around 1970 and, from the very beginning, the scientists who promoted this idea were well aware of non-coding genes, regulatory sequences, centromeres, and origins of replication. Nobody ever said that all non-coding DNA was junk.

Also, if you are going to publish an article about junk DNA for the general public you owe it to them to present both sides of the case. The arguments for junk DNA are so persuasive that ignoring them is unethical. A simple search for junk DNA on Wikipedia would have saved both Iain Konigsberg and Kara Mason considerable embarrassment.

We have got to put a stop to this ridiculous notion of dismissing junk DNA just because you haven't bothered to do the minimal amount of research necessary to have an informed opinion. You don't have to read my book, the information is out there if you just take the time to look.

Note:: I sent an email message to Iain Konigsburg and the people who run the Department of Biomedical Informatics website informing them that there were serious mistakes in their article and I was going to put up a critical blog post. I asked them for comments but received no response from them after five days.

1 comment :

John Harshman said...

I notice that the article claims that 98% of the human genome was previously thought to be junk, i.e. everything that's not in protein-coding exons. So the supposed junk includes not just the bits you mentioned but all functional RNAs too. Also, I'm guessing, 3' and 5' UTRs, though that isn't as clear.