November 15, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Junk-DNA Defenders Refuse to Look at "Useless" Code

Having decided there’s nothing there, some defenders of the “junk DNA” concept won’t focus on it.

A press release from the University of Melbourne praises another test that concludes most of the human genome is “useless” material.  A University of Oxford study led by Gerton Lunter decided that only 8.2% is functional.  Writer Ella Kelly acknowledges that the ENCODE consortium came to a “bit extreme” and “drastically different” conclusions when they concluded 80% is functional, but it’s a matter of definitions, she says:

ENCODE defined functional as a “biochemical function” – meaning that if a section of DNA is transcribed or bound by particular proteins, it would be termed “biochemically functional”, even if it did not have any eventual impact on the individual’s phenotype.

It was this version of functional that lead to the large estimation of 80%. However, many researchers, including Dr. Graur and Dr. Robin, disagree with this definition of function.

Dr. Robin instead suggests the term “functional” should be used to denote sections of DNA that, if disrupted, would have harmful effects, therefore making these sections of DNA critical to development – and this is the definition used by Dr. Lunter and his colleagues in their recent study.

Atheist Dan Graur, in particular, has attacked ENCODE’s conclusions with strong-worded tirades (see Evolution News & Views).  This has been an ongoing debate, with the ENCODE team vigorously defending their work in subsequent papers.

Graur, Robin and the critics of ENCODE are unable to test that their definition is better.  To do so would require deleting portions of DNA in humans and watching the effects.  “To test this a geneticist could purposely delete sections of the DNA and examine the impact on fitness,” Kelly writes.  “However, there are obvious ethical limitations for doing this in humans.”  Loss of fitness could mean death or inability to reproduce.

How, then, could Lunter’s team determine what portions of DNA are critical to development?  The answer requires some circular reasoning:

Instead, Dr. Lunter and his research group examined the disruptions generated by evolution to assess what parts of DNA are functional. Essentially, those sequences that were most unchanged, or conserved, are likely to have a function, while those without function evolve over time without any constraints.

In other words, they first begin by believing that non-coding DNA is evolutionary junk.  The coded parts are conserved (i.e., unevolved) and must be too important to change; the rest must be evolving without constraint.  Therefore the rest is junk.  Evolutionary assumptions confirm the evolutionary conclusion.

In an attempt to add an appearance of scientific rigor to their belief, they quantified the “evolutionary distance” from mice and other mammals, based on their belief that the degree of divergence was caused by evolution.  Why anything should be conserved in a theory of fluid evolutionary change was not addressed.

With their preconceived notion confirmed by their own preconceptions, there’s no sense studying junk any further:

The next step for researchers will be to determine the purpose and function of this important 8.2 percent of DNA.

And what about the other 91.8 percent?

Surprisingly, the rest of the DNA is mostly useless, and although there may be genes in there that encode interesting elements, research will focus first on uncovering the secrets of that small, but important, 8.2 percent of functional DNA.

Their belief in evolution, therefore, continues to bring research to a halt about the “useless” majority of the genome.

In the ID the Future Podcast, Dr. Richard Sternberg, an intelligent design biologist, responds to the “junk DNA” claim by providing evidence that the genome is hierarchically arranged like an operating system.

This is a perfect example that shows research does not exist in a worldview vacuum.  These evolutionists are not going to waste their time looking at something their worldview tells them is “useless.”  Design advocates, by contrast, take the approach that “if something works, it’s not happening by accident.”  In this case, if something is transcribed – if the cell is spending costly resources to transcribe the code – there’s a good bet it’s there for a purpose.  In fact, functions for “junk DNA” are continuing to pour forth (Evolution News & Views), showing that this approach is fruitful.

This entry also counters the common anticreationist canard that creationism is a science stopper.  One canardly find a better example that the real science stoppers are the DODOs.






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