Zombie Genes?

On August 19, Gina Kolata reported in The New York Times that geneticists “have seen a dead gene come back to life and cause a disease.” According to Kolata, the human genome “is riddled with dead genes, fossils of a sort, dating back hundreds of thousands of years–the genome’s equivalent of an attic full of broken and useless junk,” though some of those genes “can rise from the dead like zombies.” Now a supposed “zombie gene” is implicated in a type of muscular dystrophy abbreviated FSHD–a hereditary disease that affects about 1 in every 20,000 people. Kolata cites a recent Science article that begins by reviewing work dating back to the 1990s that establishes a link between FSHD and a Read More ›

“Junk” RNA Found to Encode Peptides That Regulate Fruit Fly Development

Advocates of intelligent design have long been skeptical of the claim that the majority of our genome is nonfunctional gibberish, a mere relic of our evolutionary past. Many of the key arguments for common ancestry are based around the supposition that certain loci of our genome are functionless. But the gaps in our knowledge of the genome (in which such supposition resides) are continually shrinking. A recent paper published in Science by Kondo et al. reported on the discovery that some of the supposed “non-coding” regions of the RNA transcript actually actively encode for short peptides that regulate genes involved in Drosophila development. According to the Abstract, A substantial proportion of eukaryotic transcripts are considered to be noncoding RNAs because Read More ›

The ‘Junk DNA’ Paradigm Continues To Collapse As New Functions Are Discovered For Retrotransposons

The literature continues to flood in demonstrating that so-called ‘junk’ regions of the genome are not junk after all, but serve significant and important functions. One such recent paper reports evidence that retrotransposons may play significant roles in the cell. According to the abstract, Retrotransposons including endogenous retroviruses and their solitary long terminal repeats (LTRs) compose >40% of the human genome. Many of them are located in intergenic regions far from genes. Whether these intergenic retrotransposons serve beneficial host functions is not known. Here we show that an LTR retrotransposon of ERV-9 human endogenous retrovirus located 40–70 kb upstream of the human fetal γ- and adult β-globin genes serves a long-range, host function. The ERV-9 LTR contains multiple CCAAT and Read More ›

Simple Logic (and the Data) Refute PZ Myers on ‘Junk DNA’ (Updated)

A few weeks ago, PZ Myers commented on so-called ‘Junk DNA’. Under the headline, ‘Junk DNA is still junk’, Myers wrote: The ENCODE project made a big splash a couple of years ago — it is a huge project to not only ask what the sequence of a strand of human DNA was, but to analyzed and annotate and try to figure out what it was doing. One of the very surprising results was that in the sections of DNA analyzed, almost all of the DNA was transcribed into RNA, which sent the creationists and the popular press into unwarranted flutters of excitement that maybe all that junk DNA wasn’t junk at all, if enzymes were busy copying it into Read More ›

“Junk DNA” Takes Yet More Heavy Blows

A paper has just been published in Nature which uncovers a host of new coding-independent functions for pseudogene mRNAs, including a role in tumor regulation. More exciting is that Poliseno et al. describe an entirely new regulatory function of RNA. This stands in contrast to conventional wisdom which maintains that the only function of mRNAs is encoding for proteins. According to the abstract, The canonical role of messenger RNA (mRNA) is to deliver protein-coding information to sites of protein synthesis. However, given that microRNAs bind to RNAs, we hypothesized that RNAs could possess a regulatory role that relies on their ability to compete for microRNA binding, independently of their protein-coding function. As a model for the protein-coding-independent role of RNAs, Read More ›