ENCODE Reveals Incredible Genome Complexity and Function
by Jeffrey P. Tomkins, Ph.D. *
Both the evolutionist and creationist communities are abuzz with the latest results from 30 simultaneously published high-profile research papers, proclaiming that the human genome is irreducibly complex and intelligently designed.1 From an evolutionary perspective, this is yet another massive blow to the myth of “Junk DNA.” This evolutionary idea was exposed as a fraud from a scientific perspective in Jonathan Well’s recent book The Myth of Junk DNA.2
A large-scale international research effort, ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements), began in 2003 as an expansion of the Human Genome project. The goal of ENCODE was to map and characterize the functionality of the entire human genome.
Before ENCODE, biologists understood that only a small fraction of the genome’s DNA actually codes for protein. They reasoned that the vast majority was therefore useless. But in the first round of ENCODE research results published in 2007, the authors in the lead paper reported that their “studies provide convincing evidence that the genome is pervasively transcribed, such that the majority of its bases can be found in primary transcripts, including non-protein-coding transcripts.”3 With all that DNA being transcribed (activated and copied into RNA), the cell must use it for something. In other words—it’s not junk after all.
The second phase of ENCODE has been no less spectacular in its discoveries. In the lead research paper, published in the journal Nature, the authors wrote, “These data enabled us to assign biochemical functions for 80% of the genome, in particular outside of the well-studied protein-coding regions.”1 In response to this discovery, Tom Gingeras, one of the senior scientists on the ENCODE project said, “Almost every nucleotide is associated with a function of some sort or another, and we now know where they are, what binds to them, what their associations are, and more.”4
And what about the remaining 20 percent of the genome—is it functional too? According to Ewan Birney, ENCODE’s lead analysis coordinator, it’s probably not meaningless junk either. Birney said in an interview, “It’s likely that 80 percent will go to 100 percent” and “We don’t really have any large chunks of redundant DNA. This metaphor of junk isn’t that useful.”4
Birney expects that many critics will argue about the 80 percent figure and the definition of what is “functional.” Birney added, “[That figure] best [conveys] the difference between a genome made mostly of dead wood and one that is alive with activity” and “No matter how you cut it, we’ve got to get used to the fact that there’s a lot more going on with the genome than we knew.”4
Some people will probably try to claim that these statements made by the scientists of ENCODE are merely hype. However, there is little to criticize since the 80 percent figure comes directly from a clearly written statement in an 18-page research paper in the prestigious secular journal Nature.1 Furthermore, this statement came from the lead paper of 30 other concurrently published ENCODE papers that were authored by hundreds of leading genomic scientists in multiple international laboratories worldwide.
While these startling comments about the newly discovered wonders of the human genome did not come from the mouths of creationists, they clearly demonstrate we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by our Creator God who made us “in His image.”
- The ENCODE Project Consortium. 2012. An Integrated Encyclopedia of DNA Elements in the Human Genome. Nature. 489 (7414): 57-74.
- Wells, J. 2011. The Myth of Junk DNA. Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press.
- The ENCODE Project Consortium. 2007. Identification and Analysis of Functional Elements in 1% of the Human Genome by the ENCODE Pilot Project. Nature. 447 (7146): 779-816.
- Yong, E. ENCODE: the rough guide to the human genome. Discover Magazine. Posted on discovermagazine.com September 8, 2012.
* Dr. Tomkins is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in Genetics from Clemson University.
Article posted on September 24, 2012.