Pharyngula

It’s junk. Get over it.

Now, see, this is why you shouldn’t read a gadgets & fashion magazine for information on science. Wired has run an awful little article that breathlessly claims that junk DNA ain’t junk—it’s all got a purpose, because opossum junk DNA is different from human junk DNA (I know, that makes no sense at all, but there it is in the article).

Then, just to make it even worse, that non sequitur is followed up by bunch of “we knew it all along” quotes from creationists. And then they’ve got Francis Collins chiming in and saying that he doesn’t use the term “junk” because he thinks it’s all lying around in case there’s a future use for it. Gah. He’s supposed to know what he’s talking about; it sure doesn’t show whenever he opens his mouth.

Fortunately, Larry Moran shreds this one. In addition, one scientist who was quoted as saying something sensible in the article, T. Ryan Gregory, expands and clarifies his sole comment. It’s really too bad the writer didn’t spend more time with him than with Michael Behe.

Comments

  1. #1 synthesist
    June 14, 2007

    What a truely appalling article !
    Also, surely the term junk depends on how you look at it ?
    I thought that R.Dawkins’ book describes that a gene could be defined as “successful” if it “managed” to get passed into later generations and that was “it’s” primary “objective”.
    Presumably if a gene doesn’t code for anything it’s unlikely to be acted upon by the processes of natural selection ?

  2. #2 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 14, 2007

    A while back, Wired seriously bungled a story about the Terrestrial Planet Finder, implying it was still going when it had in fact been defunded. I didn’t have high expectations of them before, but my hopes were certainly grounded after that.

    Come to think of it, wasn’t it a story in Wired which coined “the New Atheism”? (The big difference being, like, selling more books.)

    They’ve definitely got some dim bulbs over there.

  3. #3 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 14, 2007

    T. Ryan Gregory says the following on his own site:

    I make a very brief appearance in it, and I just want to clarify what I meant by the statement cited (I’m still learning that even an hour-long interview might result in only a short blurb).

    I wonder if the same kind of lossy compression turned sensible statements by Collins into silly nonsense, or if they were bad to start with. While it might sound crass, I think it’s worth suggesting that any science writer who goes out of their way to seek out creationist quotes is not a reliable information channel.

  4. #4 Ichthyic
    June 15, 2007

    And then they’ve got Francis Collins chiming in and saying that he doesn’t use the term “junk” because he thinks it’s all lying around in case there’s a future use for it.

    *sigh*

    his cognitive dissonance is getting worse.

    and after he actually did a pretty nice job of detailing how the genetics of the human genome supported the ToE in his last book.

    sure the “moral law” part of his book was completely fubar, but the genetics stuff in the first half was mostly quite good.

    he’s become yet another victim of:

    This is your brain….

    This is your brain on religion.

    any questions?

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    September 16, 2007

    Junk DNA *could* mutate into useful DNA.

    Much junk DNA is junk because it misplaced a start or stop codon. The misplaced codon could mutate again and disappear (bringing back the original gene plus accumulated mutations), a mutation could provide a new codon in a position that produces a functional gene, or a mutation within the junk could provide a function.

    What I’ve read makes me think that these scenarios are not very likely, but they would be technically possible.

    This seems to be how you get secondarily winged stick insects.

    However, pseudogenes don’t make up a very large part of junk DNA (45 % are retrovirus/transposon corpses alone!), and because pseudogenes are not under selection, they are free to accumulate mutations that would make them dysfunctional even if the start & stop codons all came back in the right positions, so you’re right it’s not likely, and indeed it doesn’t seem to be common.

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?
    September 16, 2007

    Junk DNA *could* mutate into useful DNA.

    Much junk DNA is junk because it misplaced a start or stop codon. The misplaced codon could mutate again and disappear (bringing back the original gene plus accumulated mutations), a mutation could provide a new codon in a position that produces a functional gene, or a mutation within the junk could provide a function.

    What I’ve read makes me think that these scenarios are not very likely, but they would be technically possible.

    This seems to be how you get secondarily winged stick insects.

    However, pseudogenes don’t make up a very large part of junk DNA (45 % are retrovirus/transposon corpses alone!), and because pseudogenes are not under selection, they are free to accumulate mutations that would make them dysfunctional even if the start & stop codons all came back in the right positions, so you’re right it’s not likely, and indeed it doesn’t seem to be common.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!