Monday, November 8, 2010

So what exactly is 'Junk' DNA?

Here is something I mentioned in the last post, "DI's knee-jerk anti-ID whine" and it's one of those terminology word games the less-than-honest fellows at the Discovery Institute like to use. They seem to think that scientists decades ago wrote off 'Junk DNA' as junk. It sounds good, because like their mistreatment of the words 'theory', 'belief', and 'academic freedom', all they tend to do is try and confuse folks. Now why in the world would the DI not care if people understood the truth? Because having folks know the truth is not something that will help the DI's marketing and fund raising schemes.

So what is 'Junk DNA'? Back about 40 years ago a real scientist, geneticist and evolutionary biologist Susumu Ohno, coined the term to identify portions of a genome sequence for which no discernible function had been identified. Please note it wasn't to claim that a function would never be identified, nor was it that there was no function, but that at the time "no discernible function had been identified."

Today 'Junk DNA' is considered an obsolete term because many advances over the last 40 years has identified functions for what used to fall under that label. Who still uses the term? Popular press certainly does, and so does the various Creationists who are looking to discredit real science -- and doing a pretty lousy job! I mean using a 40-year old out-of-date term is a pretty poor job of discrediting something, right?

So now let's look briefly at more of the facts, something the DI tends not to do. If actual biologists had considered large portions of a genome to be junk -- as in worthless -- who was it that made these advances in identifying functions for previously unidentified parts of a genome? Was it those hard-working Intelligent Design scientists? Anyone ever seen a hard-working ID 'Scientist'? The very few ID proponents who are actual scientists are too busy marketing to be doing any actual work.

So what is the ID proponent supposed to do? Well if you are a typical ID proponent, like those 'fellows' at the DI, you sit back on your well-funded ass and claim that each discovery by real scientists could 'hypothetically' be used as a prediction to support Intelligent Design. Of course putting the word 'hypothetically' in front of their prediction means they don't actually have to make a prediction and they can't be blamed if it doesn't come true.

In the mean time scientists -- using evolutionary theory, science, and scientific methodologies -- keep expanding our knowledge of the genome and finding many purposes for what was not identified 40 years ago. I think this identifies a cornerstone of trouble for the DI. I mean while they are busy marketing and failing to provide support for their pet ideas, science keeps pushing the boundaries of our knowledge forward and they get further and further behind the proverbial eight-ball.

Such a nice thought -- casey and friends running away from a giant eight-ball as they head toward the only shelter, labeled 'Science'. The sad thing is that unlike the DI, there won't be a lock on the door. All are welcome, providing you shed your religious-based preconceptions and are willing to work using an actual methodology. Personally I think the 8-ball would get them!

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