Another Setback for 'Junk' DNA

Scientists believed and taught for ages that only gene-coding DNA (which is a small fraction of DNA in human and other genomes) was functional. All other DNA was "junk" leftovers from a long evolutionary past. But recent studies have shown that non-coding DNA actually carries useful and vital coded instructions.1

Many of these instructions concern the regulation of gene expression. From an engineering perspective, it makes sense that more information would be required to regulate cell processes than to simply perform them. For life to live, communication systems must detect what the cell needs and then notify the correct components within the cell regarding what to do, when, and for how long.

Genes in DNA carry coded instructions that specify proteins and are transcribed into a temporary, short-lived RNA. Scientists have been unraveling the many intricate means by which these RNA transcripts serve to regulate cell processes. Now, one class of RNA known as "long non-coding RNA" has been observed regulating when and how much protein should be produced.2

Already familiar with how another class of RNAs--called microRNA--exert a "shut-down" influence on gene expression in cells, researchers were surprised to discover that when placed near a protein's gene, the long non-coding RNA enhanced, rather than restricted, protein production.

If the scientists had discovered non-coding DNA to actually be useless junk, that would have been good for evolution. As a remnant of an endless series of transitions, it could fit with eons of wasteful death and suffering, as well as the supposed evolutionary mechanism of biological change (genetic mutation). With all that extra genetic material to play with, the chances of natural processes hitting on some new and useful information might have taken on some semblance of plausibility for those seeking a purely naturalistic explanation of origins.

But the fact is that when DNA--protein-coding or not--is tinkered with, it only results in newly damaged information. That is because the vast majority of DNA carries useful information, as though it had all been crafted by a supreme Bioengineer. The discovery of a specific use for long non-coding RNA is consistent with creation, but presents yet another conundrum for evolution.

References

  1. Thomas, B. Study Shows 'Junk' DNA Builds Visible Traits. ICR News. Posted on icr.org May 4, 2010, accessed October 11, 2010.
  2. Wistar Researchers Discover New Class of Objects Encoded Within the Genome. The Wistar Institute press release, October 5, 2010, reporting on research published in Ørom, U. A. et al. 2010. Long Noncoding RNAs with Enhancer-like Function in Human Cells. Cell. 143 (1): 46-58.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on October 18, 2010.

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