For the past decade, scientists have been working on the assumption that 20,000 genes, less than 2 per cent of the total genome, underpin human biology. But a massive international project called ENCODE has revealed that plenty of the remaining 98 per cent, once tossed aside as “junk DNA”, is in fact incredibly important.
In fact, the project — known more formally as the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements — reveals that 80 per cent of that “junk DNA” is biochemically active. Add to that the fact that large stretches of DNA that appeared to serve no purpose actually contain over 400,000 regulators that help activate or silence genes, and the scientific community is surprised to say the least.
The findings will shake up biology for good, and are already starting to help scientists better understand disease. It will, however, take a long time for scientists to get to grips with the vast quantities of information this research yields. Learn more here or here.