The Death of the Concept of Junk DNA
“God don’t make no junk” has been a slogan for the self-esteem movement, and now no less than Science Now is providing support at the genetic level. “Don’t call it junk” the article announces, indicating that stretches of non-coding DNA are apparently not useless regions of material as previously believed, but vital to the regulation of the gene-coding regions.
Studies by geneticists at UC Santa Cruz have shown that “The more complex the organism, the more important junk DNA seems to be.” Some of these non-coding regions are identical in mice and men. This discovery, made last year (see 11/26/2004), hinted that these geneless regions were important, otherwise neutral mutations should have accumulated in them during the course of evolution. Now, comparisons between five vertebrates, four insects, two worms and seven species of yeast have revealed a pattern that complexity correlates with the amount of “junk DNA.” This suggests that “the regions might contain important regulatory switches that control basic biochemistry and development, which might help organisms build sophisticated bodies.”
Although the re-evaluation of non-coding DNA that views it as functionally important is not yet universally shared among geneticists (see 12/10/2004 entry), this latest revelation appears convincing to many. The new paradigm is summed up in the photo caption in the article: “Trash is treasure.”
Another finding, from the National Institute of Mental Health, claims that prairie vole social behavior is encoded in “junk DNA.” The extent of the effect on social behavior appears debatable, but the hypothesis relies on the claim that it was caused by a section of non-coding DNA previously thought to have no function. The press release ends, “Far from being junk, the repetitive DNA sequences, which are highly prone to mutate rapidly, may ultimately exert their influence through complex interactions with other genes to produce individual differences and social diversity, according to [Dr. Larry] Young.”
It bears repeating what we have said for years about this (06/03/2004 and 10/16/2003): the concept of “junk DNA” was a useless dead end that resulted from evolutionary thinking. It is similar to the now-outmoded concept of “vestigial organs” used for decades as proof of evolution: the idea that the wasteful process of evolution left relics of junk in our bodies. This viewpoint actually delayed the progress of science. It prevented research into the function of the appendix, tonsils, pineal gland, coccyx, pituitary gland and other body parts now known to be useful and even vital for life and health. How long has fruitful research into the genetic function of non-coding DNA been delayed by the concept of “junk DNA”? Who would want to waste time looking at junk?
An intelligent-design approach to non-coding DNA would have been entirely different. An ID scientist would say there must be a reason for it. Just because its function is unknown does not mean there is no function. The burden is on the scientist to figure it out, not on nature to explain itself. Like a puzzle fanatic trying to solve the latest crossword, such a scientist would be motivated to search and discover the function of the phenomenon, and might have found the secret of gene regulation much sooner.
The paradigm shift in progress about so-called junk DNA provides a classic rebuttal to the argument that intelligent design theory would shut down scientific progress. Most anticreationist rhetoric includes the charge that ID brings scientific explanation to a halt with the quick explanation, “God did it that way.” Here we have seen that the contrary is true. Evolution labeled genetic treasure as “trash,” and possibly delayed our understanding of non-coding DNA for years. We shouldn’t let the Darwinists get away with claiming credit for the turnaround.* They caused the delay. If Darwinist Esaus want to continue to treat nature like trash, ID Jacobs will be glad to take possession of their hand-offs.