Sep 07, 2012 - Highly Complex Genome

A recent set of articles have reported on the the newly published results of an extensive project to map uncharted areas of the human genome. (WSJ, Nature, Wired) Only a tiny fraction of cell DNA is actively used in manufacturing proteins (about 2%). The purpose of the rest of the genome wasn't known, and was sometimes thought to be useless "junk DNA".

The study results have shown these "useless" regions to actually be very active in switching and regulating the encoding genes. Function has been assigned to about 80% of the genome, and shows that these areas are highly complex, inter-related, and information-dense. The mountain of cell complexity gets higher the more we study how cells function!

I notice a re-occurring attitude (unfortunately) that if we can't assign function to something, then it has no function (- thus the epithet "junk DNA"). Such a view of cells seems strange because it seems naive. The rest of our world is amazingly complex; why would we assume simplistic-ness in cells? I think the attitude connects to a world view:

  • A world view that biology was designed assumes the designer wouldn't waste cell resources in junk.
  • A world view that biology evolved through efficiency should assume useless material would be culled.
  • A world view that biology evolved through the noise of random chance could allow for "useless" DNA. This view might also be encouraged by a belief that the cell was simple (as Darwin had).

We now know that the bulk of cell DNA is extremely involved. However, a view of the cell as simple could help make an evolutionary origins story more intuitive. Those that would continue to use such a view, show an intent to mislead because they want to make their story more palatable.

Most scientists won't use the "junk DNA" term (anymore). However it still largely represents what they had been thinking. They were genuinely surprised that these newly studied areas of the genome have turned out to be so important. In that, their Darwinian origins world view does them a disservice because it suggests an inaccurate biological model to them.

Well-designed things encapsulate function, art, and planning for extended capability. We see this in exceptional products; and we see this in the biological world. In my opinion, the level of sophistication found so far in this incomplete study seems more compatible with origins by design than by chance.