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Another “Junk DNA” Icon Bites the Dust

Evolution News
Photo credit: Daniel Hansen via Unsplash.

On a classic ID the Future episode, Casey Luskin examines a paper in Genome Biology and Evolution which argues that the famous beta-globin pseudogene is functional. Why is this pseudogene famous? Well, it’s been Exhibit A — literally, offered as evidence in a court case — for critics of intelligent design who argue that our genome is full of useless, functionless junk, and therefore can’t be a product of design. Download the podcast or listen to it here.

Biologist Kenneth Miller argued in court that its appearance in multiple species, including gorillas and chimpanzees, strongly suggests neo-Darwinian evolution and a common ancestor, since what designer would stick the useless gene in different species? Instead, Miller and others have theorized, the random mutation that produced the pseudogene occurred in the common ancestor and then was passed down to the multiple species descending from it. The problem is, it looks like the beta-globin cluster does have an important biological function. In light of this new evidence for the functionality of the beta-globin pseudogene, Exhibit A appears to have just collapsed.