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Will Darwinists try to pull a “Flock of Dodos” and Rewrite the History of Junk-DNA?

Casey Luskin

JunkDNA.jpgJunk-DNA is clearly going the way of the dodo, in more ways than one. The film Flock of Dodos has become a textbook example of Darwinists attempting to rewrite history to erase their past scientific and textbook mistakes. Now that we’re witnessing the apparent death of the “Junk-DNA” Neo-Darwinian paradigm, some pro-Darwin bloggers are already trying to rewrite history by claiming that Neo-Darwinism never supported the “junk-DNA” hypothesis after all.

As one Scienceblogger wrote, “If you read evolgen you know that the term ‘Junk DNA’ is crap. From an evolutionary viewpoint it also seemed a bit peculiar to relegate most of the genome to non-functional status…” Just how valid is that statement? In 1995, Scientific American plainly expounded that under the Neo-Darwinian view, “[t]hese regions have traditionally been regarded as useless accumulations of material from millions of years of evolution.” The view that non-coding DNA is “junk” has been adamantly promoted by TalkOrigins for years, as one leading contributor confidently asserted in 2001 that “[m]ost of human DNA is junk DNA.” To be sure, over the years some rogue Darwinian biologists have bucked the consensus and promoted the view that non-coding DNA isn’t mostly junk. But this doesn’t change the fact that many leading Darwinists have had a long history of promoting the view that non-coding DNA is largely useless “junk.”

The comments above, and the quotes below document some examples of Darwinists asserting that non-coding DNA is thought to be “junk”:

Susumu Ohno, a leader in the field of genetics and evolutionary biology, explained in 1972 in an early study of non-coding DNA that, “they are the remains of nature’s experiments which failed. The earth is strewn with fossil remains of extinct species; is it a wonder that our genome too is filled with the remains of extinct genes?”[1]

In 1994, the authoritative textbook, Molecular Biology of the Cell, co-authored by National Academy of Sciences president Bruce Alberts, suggested (incorrectly!) that introns are “largely genetic ‘junk'”:

Unlike the sequence of an exon, the exact nucleotide sequence of an intron seems to be unimportant. Thus introns have accumulated mutations rapidly during evolution, and it is often possible to alter most of an intron’s nucleotide sequence without greatly affecting gene function. This has led to the suggestion that intron sequences have no function at all and are largely genetic “junk”…[2]

Soon thereafter, the 1995 edition of Voet & Voet’s Biochemistry textbook explained that “a possibility that must be seriously entertained is that much repetitive DNA serves no useful purpose whatever for its host. Rather, it is selfish or junk DNA, a molecular parasite that, over many generations, has disseminated itself throughout the genome…”[3]

In 1996, leading origin of life theorist Christian de Duve wrote: “The simplest way to explain the surplus DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite or at best a harmless but useless passenger, hitching a ride in the survival machines created by the other DNA.”[4] Another leading biologist, Sydney Brenner argued in a biology journal in 1998 that: “The excess DNA in our genomes is junk, and it is there because it is harmless, as well as being useless, and because the molecular processes generating extra DNA outpace those getting rid of it.”[5] (Richard Dawkins makes similar pronouncements that DNA is junk in an article after 1998, here.)

Given the behavior of Darwinists in Flock of Dodos as they denied that Haeckel’s embryo drawings have been misused in modern textbooks, one might suspect that Darwinists will try to rewrite history to claim their paradigm never called non-coding DNA “junk.” Will junk-DNA truly go the way of the dodo?

[1]. Susumu Ohno, “So much ‘junk’ DNA in our genome,” Brook Haven Symposia in Biology, Vol. 23:366-370 (1972).
[2]. Bruce Alberts, Dennis Bray, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and James D. Watson, Molecular biology of the Cell, pg. 373 (3rd Ed., 1994).
[3]. Donald Voet & Judith Voet, Biochemistry, pg. 1138 (1995).
[4]. Christian de Duve, Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative, Basic Books, pg., 222-223 (1996).
[5]. Sydney Brenner, “Refuge of spandrels,” Current Biology, Vol. 8(19): R669 (1998).


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Junk DNA