Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rethinking Junk DNA

According to the New York Times article "Mystery DNA, far from junk, plays crucial role," scientists working for project ENCODE have found that 80% of what was previously considered "junk DNA" is actually "active and needed" in the human genome. The Human Genome Project, the first project to map out the human genome, laid the groundwork for project ENCODE to provide a much more detail-oriented map of the human genome. In project ENCODE, the discovery of gene switches, which have been determined to affect the the amount in which genes are expressed, has led to a much more comprehensive mapping, and understanding, of the human genome. In the over 4,000,000,000 gene switches found mostly in "junk DNA," many have been linked to complex diseases. Michael Snyder of Stanford University noted that "most of the changes that affect disease don't lie in the genes themselves, they lie in the switches."Gene switches have been linked to and will hopefully help cure such diseases as:  Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Although research on gene switches is in its beginning stages, scientists are hopeful that a better understanding of gene switches will lead to cures for complex diseases and better healthcare overall. When asked about the discovery of gene switches, Mark Gerstein of Yale University noted that "it's like opening a wiring closet and seeing a hairball of wires. We tried to unravel this hairball and make it interpretable."

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