baudrunner's space: The ENCODE project: beyond the genome project
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Monday, January 21, 2008

The ENCODE project: beyond the genome project

"The human genome is an elegant but cryptic store of information."

In 2001 the project to catalog the human genome was completed. Embedded in the DNA molecule are genes and what were once believed to be "junk DNA", noncoding portions of the DNA that represented fully 98.8% of the entire genome. It has been found that some of these noncoding portions are shared among mammals. This suggests that they play some crucial role as yet undetermined. Information contained herein is partially derived from a June 13, 2007 Scientific American article.

In 2003 a new project involving 35 research groups was undertaken to create the encyclopedia of DNA elements (ENCODE). The pilot phase of the project targeted 1% of the human genome (roughly 30Mb of data).

All species have been found to transcribe large portions of "noncoding" DNA for some unapparent reason, and in addition to the role that RNA plays in protein synthesis, some RNA's play roles by themselves.

The ENCODE consortium selected 44 separate sections of the genome for study of which 3% make up genes, yet 93% of the material was transcribed and extensive overlapping in the noncoding portions was discovered when transcription was compared with any of the 399 ENCODE genes. 65% of the gene transcription process also involved selected portions of other genes as well as pieces of DNA far outside of the target genes [distal regions]. ENCODE findings confirm reports from other sources that often a protein is synthesized from exons (cleaved gene portions) of different genes.

23% of mammals share 5% of the studied sequence. Of these 5% approximately 60% show evidence of function. Evaluation from a purely scientific point of view would suggest that evolution has preserved these DNA portions as species have diverged. Yet it is not untoward to suggest that they would exist even from separate evolutionary beginnings based on the premise that there is a very distinct progression that the evolution of life takes when it does manifest - an intelligent design principle based on the natural anthropocentric process. Either suggestion is speculative, although I personally believe the latter one.

What is known is that we are just analysing the tip of the iceberg with respect to the full extent of the knowledge that we require to fully understand the code that DNA represents and the processes which interpret that code to produce life. But we are already far ahead of that day in 2001 when it was announced that the complete human genome had been sequenced.

Genome biologist George Weinstock of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston says, "this study shows us how far we are from a comprehensive understanding of the human genome."

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