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Human Genome Not So Full of “Junk” After All

Major discovery alert: Scientists have just learned that there is practically no waste space on the human genome. In fact, it has an incredible information density.

Encode, the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, has found that 80 percent of the genome is biochemically active, as opposed to the previous estimate of a meager 2 percent. Additionally, Encode has found that some sections previously characterized as “junk” DNA actually work as a control panel for other genes. As The Wall Street Journal explains, this opens up scores of opportunities for researchers:

The discovery “is like a huge set of floodlights being switched on” to illuminate the darkest reaches of the genetic code, said Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in the U.K., lead analysis coordinator for the Encode results.

For example, the new research helped scientists to discover that a particular type of regulatory switch, known as the GATA family of transcription factors, was associated with the risk of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition. The data helped narrow down this link from a possible 2,000 options, said Dr. Birney.

“That’s a new association, and we’re saying we have about 400 of those” showing other such biological links, he added.

While it will still take time for scientists to make more sense of the genome, it is clear that our research skills are rapidly improving, and that huge medical breakthroughs are possible. Cures for cancer, autoimmune diseases, and many other conditions may be unearthed through deeper digging into the human genome.

We wish Godspeed to those doing this work, and see it as yet another sign that the pace of scientific discovery is still accelerating.

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