Scientists Claim Our DNA May Be Mostly Junk: Is This Outrageous or Amazing? Regardless, with Epigenetics, We Can All Optimize Gene Function! Wowzers!
As I was ending my work day with my usual activity of reading through some of the latest and most relevant research articles, a headline in Science Daily caught my eye: “New limits to functional portion of human genome reported: Work suggests at least 75 percent of the genome is junk DNA.”
The article continued:
In work published online in Genome Biology and Evolution, Dan Graur reports the functional portion of the human genome probably falls between 10 percent and 15 percent, with an upper limit of 25 percent. The rest is so-called junk DNA, or useless but harmless DNA.
In 2012, the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) announced that 80 percent of the genome had a biochemical function. Graur said this new study not only puts these claims to rest but hopefully will help to refocus the science of human genomics.
“We need to know the functional fraction of the human genome in order to focus biomedical research on the parts that can be used to prevent and cure disease,” he said. “There is no need to sequence everything under the sun. We need only to sequence the sections we know are functional.”
Did you catch that last paragraph?
Being a fan of epigenetics, I was intrigued. If you haven’t heard, epigenetics is a powerful new science that studies how gene expression can be modulated to change gene function, without modifying DNA. It has become a powerful alley to explaining the health impacts of preventative and integrative medicine.
Epigenetics is the mechanism behind explaining how what we do, our lifestyle choices, and what we are exposed to can either restore and keep the body healthy, or, accelerate illness and disease. It highlights the importance of moving beyond the theory that “genes are our destiny,” and into the aspects of sprinting toward health, by impacting gene function.
Any scientist who proclaims the importance of function over predetermined destiny has my attention. Therefore, not being someone to take much stock in potentially scientifically hyped headlines, I went to the source to learn more.
What I learned by reading the study, besides that I should have dedicated more attention to learning genetics, was that the researchers based their conclusions on mutations that would explain the current fertility and fitness of the human population. A premise of their argument was that if 80% of DNA was functional is true, which many scientists hold as true, we’d have some pretty tired parents. Specifically, if the 80% theory were correct for population stability, it would predict that couples would need to have 15 children, with only two dying or being sterile, to exceed the mutation rates found in their genetics. Wow, that’s a lot of mouths to feed!
As with any study, it made several assumptions and biases that need to be taken account. Also, as with any genetic and theory study, it also had a variety of very confusing calculations for this biology lover, math nemesis, that questioned my competence. (I knew not to go into engineering for this reason.)
For example, among the many assumptions were: that the mutations found in the “junk DNA” are neutral and that fitness loci (genes in a certain location) do not interact with each other and, therefore; are not based on the strength of a specific mutation. Therefore, to understand mutational load, the researchers used deleterious mutation rates to determine mean mutation rate, not fitness distribution rate.
HUH x 2!?
In English speak:
Basically, there was a lot of assumptions, which are based on some good evidence, but they aren’t proven true. So… the estimates could be wrong.
Such is science.
Another aspect of science this article highlights is that in genetics there are divisions among experts that point fingers and wave angry fists at their opponents in verbal attacks via differing research findings. This holds true for many medical and science specialists.
Will this proclamation and new model be met with crickets, outrage, or more controversy than ENCODE, which was also questioned in it development?
Background on “ENCODING” the Truth
If you aren’t familiar with the current theory aimed to be debunked, according to Nature, ENCODE, the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, was meant to pick up where the Human Genome Project left off. It was an attempt to remedy this “sketchy” blueprint:
ENCODE, which started in 2003, is a massive data-collection effort designed to populate this terrain. The aim is to catalogue the ‘functional’ DNA sequences that lurk there, learn when and in which cells they are active and trace their effects on how the genome is packaged, regulated and read…
The consortium has assigned some sort of function to roughly 80% of the genome, including more than 70,000 ‘promoter’ regions — the sites, just upstream of genes, where proteins bind to control gene expression — and nearly 400,000 ‘enhancer’ regions that regulate expression of distant genes (see page 57)
There has been much debate that ENCODE’s assumption that junk DNA was useless was flawed, and therefore; an inaccurate model of the “blueprint for life.” According to some, it set a “dangerous precedent” to dismiss this “garbage of genetic information.” For example, one 2014 article in PLoS Genetics states:
Whereas this is an issue of considerable importance in genome biology, there is an unfortunate tendency for researchers and science writers to proclaim the demise of junk DNA on a regular basis without properly addressing some of the fundamental issues that first led to the rise of the concept. In this review, we provide an overview of the major arguments that have been presented in support of the notion that a large portion of most eukaryotic genomes lacks an organism-level function. Some of these are based on observations or basic genetic principles that are decades old, whereas others stem from new knowledge regarding molecular processes such as transcription and gene regulation.
Rather than go into a whole run-away-train -blog on the arguments for and against either arguments, and risk error based on my limited expertise, the conclusion of the author states it best. We just don’t know what to conclude yet about “junk DNA” and “functional DNA!”:
For decades, there has been considerable interest in determining what role, if any, the majority of the DNA in eukaryotic genomes plays in organismal development and physiology. The ENCODE data are only the most recent contribution to a long-standing research program that has sought to address this issue. However, evidence casting doubt that most of the human genome possesses a functional role has existed for some time. This is not to say that none of the nonprotein-coding majority of the genome is functional—examples of functional noncoding sequences have been known for more than half a century, and even the earliest proponents of “junk DNA” and “selfish DNA” predicted that further examples would be found. Nevertheless, they also pointed out that evolutionary considerations, information regarding genome size diversity, and knowledge about the origins and features of genomic components do not support the notion that all of the DNA must have a function by virtue of its mere existence. Nothing in the recent research or commentary on the subject has challenged these observations.
Sorting Through the Genetic Maze of Mayhem
Now that I’ve taken you into a genetic maze of mayhem, what’s my point?
The point of the above, for this blog, is that, regardless of functional or nonfunctional DNA, integrative docs are already looking at a combination of factors that influence our genetic health with the science of epigenetics. We acknowledge genetics are important for susceptibility to disease outcomes and associated risk factors. However, we feel the view that genes control destiny is outdated, except in rare mutations.
For example, I’ve recently dragged you deep down into the world of epigenetics, maybe without you knowing it!!
Specifically, we’ve been discussing how to mitigate the detrimental environmental factors that influence gene expression and health risk. This is in order to modulate your health outcomes and keep your loved ones safe.
There’s even more tools we can pull out as well, besides ditching the chemicals!
9 Tools to Make Epigenetics Explode for Your Benefit and Make Your Genes Happy
There are many ways to modulate epigenetics, optimize the genes you have, and mitigate disease risk… RIGHT NOW. You may already be doing some of them with healthy choices you are making every day. Here’s the list of 9 tools you can put to use:
- Enjoying all the benefits of essential oils, even beyond protection from toxins. (I discuss this tool in the EMF blog, linked below.)
- Making our microbiome happy.
- Choosing a healthy lifestyle and the right diet for you, following the “BASICS.”
- Moving your body.
- Making the brain dynamic.
- Making time for social connection and fun.
- Exploring meditation and mind-body practices.
- Realizing the importance of mind-set, prayer, and spirituality.
- Getting “shielded” – mitigating EMF risks
Ah- ha! Stumped you on the ninth?
Read “Should You Get “Shielded” from Dirty Electricity and Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF): If So, How?” here.
Now, leave your comments on some of your favorite tools, or tools I may have missed.
What can you do today to keep your “genes happy?”
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)