Evolution Icon Evolution
Life Sciences Icon Life Sciences

Experimental Data Force Researchers to Admit There’s “No Such Thing As Junk RNA”

Originally, proponents of neo-Darwinian evolution lauded “junk” DNA as functionless genetic garbage that showed life is the result of blind and random mutational events. Then “junk” DNA was disproved by the discovery that the vast majority of DNA is being transcribed into RNA. Did the failure of this Darwinian assumption cause evolutionists to terminate their love affair with biological “junk”? Of course not. They just shifted their argument back, claiming that the cell is full of “junk RNA”–DNA that is being transcribed into RNA but still does nothing in the cell. Earlier this year we reported on a Nature paper suggesting function for “junk” RNA. Now a Science Daily NewsArticle is confirming that finding. Aptly titled “No Such Thing As ‘Junk RNA,’ Say Researchers,” the article reports that very small strands of RNA termed “usRNAs” (unusually small RNAs) perform important functions related to gene regulation.

Once again, the Darwinian “junk” mindset seems to have held back such discoveries, as the authors report, “until we did our experiments, we didn’t realize that RNAs as small as 15 nucleotides, which we thought were simply cell waste, are surprisingly stable, and are repeatedly, reproducibly, and accurately produced across different tissue types. … We have dubbed these as usRNAs, and we have identified thousands of them, present in a diversity that far exceeds all other longer RNAs found in our study.” One of the study’s authors, Dr. Bino John, concluded, “These findings suggest that usRNAs are involved in biological processes, and we should investigate them further.”

While it’s heartening to learn they’re now on a better path towards fruitful research, it seems that progress is only made once experimental data–and not evolutionary presumptions–are permitted to guide scientific research. It’s no secret that the Darwinian-based “junk” mindset has hindered research into the actual function for biological features thought to be functionless evolutionary garbage. A 2003 article in Science explained how “junk” thinking has “repelled mainstream researchers” from studying the function of such important genetic structures:

Although catchy, the term ‘junk DNA’ for many years repelled mainstream researchers from studying noncoding DNA. Who, except a small number of genomic clochards, would like to dig through genomic garbage? However, in science as in normal life, there are some clochards who, at the risk of being ridiculed, explore unpopular territories. Because of them, the view of junk DNA, especially repetitive elements, began to change in the early 1990s. Now, more and more biologists regard repetitive elements as a genomic treasure.”

Wojciech Makalowski, “Not Junk After All,” Science, Vol. 300(5623):1246-1247 (May 23, 2003).

Also in 2003, researcher John Mattick stated in Scientific American that the failure to recognize certain types of “junk” DNA as functional was “a classic story of orthodoxy derailing objective analysis of the facts” that “may well go down as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology.”

Of course, an intelligent design paradigm would have predicted function for “junk” DNA or “junk” RNA all along, perhaps leading scientists to “investigate them further” much sooner.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, 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.



__k-reviewJunk DNA