December 10, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Gene Deserts Not All Dead

Researchers continue to find evidence for function in the so-called “gene deserts” (stretches of DNA that do not code for genes) but are not yet ready to give up the concept of “junk DNA” entirely.  According to EurekAlert, scientists at Lawrence Livermore found that the highly-conserved sections tend to contain regulatory agents, but they assume the variable regions contain accumulated junk.  Recent experiments on mice showed that large portions of non-coding DNA were not essential for life and health; when removed, the mice apparently got along fine.

They need to keep looking.  Even if these stretches do not code for genes or for regulatory agents, there could be other reasons they are there.  Maybe they provide structural integrity, scaffolding, bulk, or contain encrypted backup copies of genes, or provide something else no one has even considered yet.  If you looked at files on a computer, some would be easily readable but others would look like nonsense, and could be deleted without apparent harm.  That does not mean they were junk; maybe the function was just not discovered yet.  Maybe it was a device driver for a device you had not yet tried to use.  The apparently healthy mice with large portions of DNA removed might have been deprived of something they needed in a different environment, or might have aged quicker, or might have lost immunity to something.  The intelligent design approach is to assume there is a reason for it, and work hard to find it, not give up prematurely and call it junk.  This approach was successful in overturning the evolutionary myth of vestigial organs.  It will likely prove fruitful in this case as well.

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