Who Cares about “Junk DNA”?

Early scientists used to believe that life was very simple and could generate spontaneously. They believed life started as primordial ooze and could evolve into the various life-forms we see today, including humans. Even today some scientists (and politicians) use this tactic, trying to convince the public that an embryo is just a simple mass of tissue, no different than a tumor, and has no value or worth. Simplifying life in this manner reinforces the notion that life could arise accidentally, without purpose or direction, is inevitable, normal and rational. This is the notion of a-biogenesis, and sets the stage for Darwinian forces to act upon the organism and eventually evolve into man and all the varieties of life we see today. Another purpose for this is to devalue life and claim that it’s nothing special. In other words, we’re all related to the most basic forms of life, so humans are no different or better than earthworms or amoebas, and what’s living in the womb doesn’t deserve any special treatment.

Despite all this, we now know that life is extremely complex, and that includes the simplest of single-celled organisms. There are amazing and exciting things that occur in the cells of all living organisms at the atomic level in order to preserve the cell and reproduce.

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DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is the language of life; it’s is an informational molecule in the cells of all living organisms, such as plants, animals and viruses, and encodes genetic instructions. These instructions are used in the development and function of the organism, and they specify certain traits, such eye color, the shape of a bird’s beak, or the length and texture of a dog’s hair. DNA molecules efficiently store enormous amounts of information- in fact a single strand is thousands of times thinner than a strand of human hair!

And just as life has been simplified, so has DNA. This was accomplished by scientists labeling it “junk DNA”. At one time only 2% of DNA was known to have a function, while the rest of the noncoding DNA had no known biological function; it appeared to consist of meaningless sequences, and was believed to be useless garbage leftover from our evolutionary past- hence the term “junk DNA” (first used by geneticist Susumu Ohno in 1972). In fact scientists had little interest in studying it. It was considered proof that there is no god, because if there was a god, surely he wouldn’t have been so inefficient.

However, new studies released by 400 scientists in the ENCODE project (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements), which began in 2003, help us understand the role of this junk DNA, and it’s expected that the findings will impact the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental disorders. The project estimates that 80% of the genome is functional, has specific biochemical activity, and plays a critical role in controlling how cells behave. One function includes regulating the activity of nearby genes during development. These genes work by being switched on, and then block the activity of adjacent genes. Other critical roles include being enhancers for transcription, silencers for suppression, and regulating the translation of proteins. In fact, according to ENCODE’s Lead Analysis Coordinator, Ewan Birney, “It’s likely that 80 percent will go to 100 percent.” And Geneticist Rick Myers said, “We’re far from finished. You might argue that this could go on forever.”

Researchers and evolutionists have had different reactions. Some are excited and believe these regulatory elements played an important role in how different species evolved. Others have shown opposition because the results are inconsistent with their worldview and what they’ve been led to believe; they believed that 98% of junk DNA was useless information leftover from our ancestors with no known functions. In fact Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, wrote in his 2009 book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, “Leaving pseudogenes aside, it is a remarkable fact that the greater part (95 per cent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well not be there, for all the difference it makes.” So what scientists once considered to be a “fact” in the past, is no longer a fact today. It’s now fair to say that it was never a fact in the first place; it was just a belief built on evolutionary assumptions.

The turnaround in how junk DNA is viewed today is remarkable. Dr. Eric Lander, president of the Broad Institute (Harvard and MIT) and a researcher involved in the Human Genome Project, said the new result “is a stunning resource,” and “My head explodes at the amount of data.”

Ewan Birney, a lead researcher on the project said that human DNA is “a lot more active than we expected, and there are a lot more things happening than we expected.”

Dr. Bradley Bernstein, an Encode researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital says that it’s a stunningly complex system with many redundancies, and the idea of so many switches was almost incomprehensible. He says this “is a really big deal,” and “I don’t think anyone predicted that would be the case.”

Those opposed to the results point out that the majority of DNA is transcribed into RNA, and the RNA isn’t doing anything useful, so it remains an evolutionary leftover that hasn’t been eliminated from our DNA yet. Others claim that onions contain much more junk DNA than humans do, therefore the majority of Junk DNA in humans must not be functional. And still others claim that no one said that all junk DNA was non-functional.

As a creationist, I’m amazed at the detail God put into his designs. How things work at the atomic and sub-atomic level is astounding! God didn’t put useless junk into the cells of his creation; he designed his creation with great care and intelligence.

Now that’s not to say that everything works perfectly as originally intended. It should come as no surprise that human DNA has degraded over time and contains more errors and mutations now than it did at the beginning of human history. At the fall of man, Adam’s sin has led to the many harmful genetic mutations we experience today. These mutations and errors result in cancer and various types of genetic diseases. To put this in perspective, consider what the Bible tells us about the first humans. According to Genesis 5, Adam lived 930 years, while his son, Seth, lived 912 years, and his grandson, Enosh lived 905 years. This demonstrates how mankind is less fit today than at the beginning.

A proper understanding of junk DNA also demonstrates how evolution actually inhibits real science. Because scientists thought this was meaningless, they didn’t study it, and weren’t interested in it. Decades of study were lost because of evolutionary thinking. Now we know DNA has a wiring system that is inconceivably intricate, which was not predicted. Much of what we’ve learned has come as a surprise to scientists. But now, according to the UK Guardian, junk DNA will be “Consigned to the history books.”

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One thought on “Who Cares about “Junk DNA”?

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    Posted on December 9, 2012

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