The National Human Genome Research Institute has announced the results of a five-year international study of the regulation and organization of the human genome. The project, named ENCODE
, stands for the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements. The human genome consists of about 3 billion DNA base pairs, but only a small percentage (about 2%) of DNA actually codes for proteins. The roles and functions of the remaining genetic information have been unclear to scientists. This genetic information was often referred to as "junk DNA." Research from the ENCODE project has revealed that over 80% of the human genome is associated with biological function, which means this dark part of the genome is actually very important and not junk.
The new research could have huge implications on human health and disease research. The sections of the human genome once thought to be dark or "junk" actually contain a complex system of millions of switches that regulate the switching on and off of genes. NHGRI chief Eric Green told USA Today
, "The major lesson from ENCODE is how complex the human genome turns out to be, with this incredible choreography of switches that turn genes on and off."
Ewan Birney of EMBL-EBI, lead analysis coordinator for ENCODE, said in a statement, "Our genome is simply alive with switches: millions of places that determine whether a gene is switched on or off. 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."
Science correspondent Ian Sample has made an interesting video about the new findings here
. He uses to a visual aid to show how our knowledge of how DNA operates has continued to improve since the sequencing of the human genome in 200.
has launched the Nature Encode explorer
. Nature Encode contains over a dozan research articles published today, see here
. More ENCODE articles can be found here
on BioMed Central.
Image: National Human Genome Research Institute