Here is a bonus blog entry for the week. I don’t normally deal in the realm of science because it not my field of expertise. However, I am fascinated the world and universe in which we live. I see the complexity and diversity of the creation and I am amazed by the work of God. I don’t care what many in our world say. I cannot look at our world and universe and see anything but the intricate design and majesty of God. God’s fingerprints are all over what we can see and even those things which are beyond our vision, both near and far or tiny and large.
This week, research results were published from the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Consortium, which is an international collaboration of research groups funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). The goal of ENCODE is to build a comprehensive parts list of functional elements in the human genome.
Below, I have provided a series of quotes, in no particular order, from articles that I read about the findings they have released. There are no comments from me contained below. These are direct quotes from the articles. Following the quotes, I have provided links to the articles, in case you want to check them out for yourselves.
As you read through these comments, I pray that you will all be able to say, along with King David:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:13-16 ESV
Together for His glory…
A colossal international effort [ENCODE] has yielded the first comprehensive look at how our DNA works, an encyclopedia of information that will rewrite the textbooks and offer new insights into the biology of disease. For one thing, it may help explain why some people are more prone to common ailments such as high blood pressure and heart disease. The findings, reported Wednesday by more than 500 scientists, reveal extraordinarily complex networks that tell our genes what to do and when, with millions of on-off switches.
“What we learned from ENCODE is how complicated the human genome is, and the incredible choreography that is going on with the immense number of switches that are choreographing how genes are used,” Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (which ran the nine-year-long ENCODE project), told reporters during a teleconference.
ENCODE’s scientists knew that certain regulatory mechanisms dictated when and where certain genes were expressed and in what amount in order to give rise to the diversity of cells and tissues that make up the human body, but even they were surprised by just how intricate the choreography turned out to be. “Most people are surprised that there is more DNA encoding regulatory control elements, or switch elements for genes, than for the genes themselves,” Michael Snyder, director of the center for genomics and personalized medicine at Stanford University and a member of the ENCODE team, told Healthland.
Junk. Barren. Non-functioning. Dark matter. That’s how scientists had described the 98% of human genome that lies between our 21,000 genes, ever since our DNA was first sequenced about a decade ago. The disappointment in those descriptors was intentional and palpable. The Human Genome Project finally determined the entire sequence of our DNA in 2001, researchers found that the 3 billion base pairs that comprised our mere 21,000 genes made up a paltry 2% of the entire genome. The rest, geneticists acknowledged with unconcealed embarrassment, was an apparent biological wasteland. But it turns out they were wrong. In an impressive series of more than 30 papers published in several journals, including Nature, Genome Research, Genome Biology, Science and Cell, scientists now report that these vast stretches of seeming “junk” DNA are actually the seat of crucial gene-controlling activity — changes that contribute to hundreds of common diseases.
Only about 1 percent of the genome codes for proteins, however, and the challenge has been to figure out the function of the other 99 percent, which for years was termed “junk DNA” because it did not code for proteins. The ENCODE scientists are biology’s version of the Occupy movement, said Mark Gerstein of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., who led one of the ENCODE teams: “For years everyone focused on the 1 percent. ENCODE looks at the 99 percent.” In examining the overlooked part of the genome, the ENCODE scientists discovered that about 80 percent of the DNA once dismissed as junk performs a biological function. Primarily, the not-so-junky DNA constitutes the most sophisticated control panel this side of NASA’s, with some 4 million bits of DNA controlling all the rest. “The ‘junk’ DNA, the 99 percent, is actually in charge of running the genes,” said Gerstein.
How complicated is the genetic regulatory system? There are nearly 4 million gene switches in the major human organs, with about 200,000 acting in any given kind of cell, such as in heart muscle. “Our genome is simply alive with switches: millions of places that determine whether a gene is switched on or off,” said Ewan Birney of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory-European Bioinformatics Institute and one of the leaders of ENCODE. Scientists also mapped more than 4 million sites where proteins bind to DNA to regulate genetic function, sort of like a switch. “We are finding way more switches than we were expecting,” Birney said. “It’s worth reminding ourselves that we are very, very complex machines,” Birney said. “It shouldn’t be so surprising that the instruction manual is really pretty fearsomely complicated.”
When the human genome was first sequenced, scientists were surprised that its structure—based on fewer-than-expected genes—seemed uncomplicated, said Chris Ponting, a professor of genomics at the University of Oxford who wasn’t involved in the latest research. “Encode shows us how extraordinarily decorated the genome is,” Dr. Ponting said.
Scientists have determined that there are 4 million sites in the genome where specific biochemical events occur, most of which have been discovered with ENCODE. That means if you got your genome sequenced, there could be as many as 4 million differences between you and the person sitting next to you, Michael Snyder, a Stanford University professor who is the principal investigator for ENCODE, told CNN.