MASSDEVICE ON CALL — So called "junk" DNA is anything but, according to a series of 30 connected research papers published in the journals Nature, Genome Biology and Genome Research.
Segments of DNA once disregarded as "junk" code is actually "a massive control panel with millions of switches regulating the activity of our genes," researchers reported.
"Without these switches, genes would not work – and mutations in these regions might lead to human disease," according to a press release.
Researchers working on the ENCODE study, which included more than 440 scientists in 32 labs around the world, generated and analyzed more than 15 terabytes of raw data, using about 300 years worth of computer time to determine which segments of DNA activate and deactivate specific genes.
"Our genome is simply alive with switches: millions of places that determine whether a gene is switched on or off," researcher Ewan Birney said in prepared remarks. "The Human Genome Project showed that only 2% of the genome contains genes, the instructions to make proteins. With ENCODE, we can see that around 80% of the genome is actively doing something. We found that a much bigger part of the genome – a surprising amount, in fact – is involved in controlling when and where proteins are produced, than in simply manufacturing the building blocks."
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