After seeing the articles on the human genome project, I was obliged to do a little speculating. It turns out that instead of some 100,000 genes that we expected to find along our lengthy strands of DNA, there are instead only 30,000 to 40,000 genes instead. Here is an article about the overall project and some of its amazing conclusions.
This means that we have many stretches of “junk” DNA along the old double helix. What occurred to me is that this could be a useful survival feature in a number of ways.[ul][li]Instead of having compact genetic material that would be more susceptible to damage by cosmic rays or other ionizing radiation, there are enormous “buffer” regions between critically encoded zones. This makes a lot of sense. There might have been an earlier hominid that had more densely encoded DNA and was thus eliminated by exposure to the harsher conditions of prehistoric times.[/li]
Yet, this may not entirely be the case since critical gene groups manifest in “clusters” in certain specific areas. There is speculation that this centralizing of critical functions, like the mapping of how an embryo develops, makes that region less subject to interference from junk DNA inserting itself. Obviously, there are just as many questions raised as answered, as you can see from this article.
[li]Overproduction of genetic material keeps the DNA engines running at a healthier clip. If small quantities were all that was needed, there might be a greater chance of atrophy or impaired function. To have lots of material necessary for correct genetic expression there is an assurance of more robust functioning.[/li]
[li]With increased DNA length there would be more sites for matching sequences to “fit” themselves to. This maximizes the opportunity for “jumping” genes. As a potential source of relatively benign mutations, this would also contribute to survival.[/ul][/li]What implications do you see in this work? Do you think that there will be just as many curses as boons in this biomedical Pandora’s box. I’m particularly interested in the opinions of any genetic researchers who may haunt these boards.
My own take on this is that once the ethical dilemmas are solved, this will prove to be one of the greatest scientific advances in the history of human existence.