Most LncRNAs are Junk


Very interesting, I thought the “Junk DNA debate” was concluded a while ago.
By the title, it looks like I can be anxious for more debates on this topic in the future.
Thanks for the link.

There are still some who are trying to restart the debate. The review article discussed at Sandwalk does a good job of explaining why those efforts are misguided. IMO, much of the current debate can be quieted simply by pointing out that “vast majority” is not the same as “all”. The current science states that the vast majority of lncRNAs don’t have function. The scientists trying to claim that lncRNA are not junk try to portray the current science as saying all lncRNAs lack function. Then all they do is point to a handful of functional lncRNAs and claim the current science is wrong. They then make an additional unsupported leap and try to claim that nearly all lncRNAs must therefore be functional based on function found in just a handful. You will also see the anti-junk DNA crowd using misleading statements like “it was thought that all non-coding DNA was junk”. This is absolutely false since science has known of functional non-coding DNA since the 1960’s and has long accepted function in non-coding DNA.

It’s this sort of rhetoric that ticks off a lot of scientists, and it’s about time more scientists start hitting back at those who are misrepresenting the data.


I have a feeling that @PhylogenyFallacy was under the impression that the debate was settled in favour of the “There is no Junk DNA” side. But he can confirm.


Science doesn’t progress by debates, it progresses with new data. The point of this is that there are a massive number of weak papers on lncRNAs with very few conclusive data and far too much hype.


On a related note, the good news is that it appears Larry Moran will be able to publish his book on the case for junk-DNA some time soon:

And just to emphasize, there is no evidence that prior to the 1960’s there were any appreciable number of biologists who thought all non-coding DNA was nonfunctional junk.

To whatever extend anyone has ever thought that (I know of no actual example of anyone who did), they would have been a tiny fringe minority even back then.

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The sad situation is that most molecular biologists and genomicists have heard that there is little junk DNA. And that fits with their prejudices so they accept that, without looking into the matter. But that almost all molecular evolutionists are convinced by multiple lines of evidence that there is lots of junk DNA. There is a massive disconnect here and if there were a vote, the molecular evolutionists would lose, as there are fewer of them. When the ENCODE publicity machine trumpeted the death of junk DNA in 2012 I used to say that it would take us 10 years to recover from that. I was wrong. It will take at least 20 years.


Well-stated, @T_aquaticus. Unfortunately, the debate attracts strong opinions on both sides of the aisle. For example, in Table 1 of the review, the authors describe a claim associated with the “Missing the point” fallacy as:

“Deletion of a large lncRNA locus results in mouse phenotypes, so its lncRNA must have RNA-dependent function.”

They also describe a claim associated with the “Slippery slope fallacy” as:

“Claim: lncRNA X binds protein Y that regulates gene Z. So lncRNA X must modulate Z’s expression and its effects on cells and organisms.”

There is, IMO, no need to poison the well like this. Very rarely will scientists resort to such extreme claims or conclusions.

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Oh, it was, though not in the way you might be thinking. However, there are a great many molecular biologists who seem unaware of the history of the debate and of the science involved. You might look up the Onion Test. There are also a great many posts on Sandwalk that would educate on the subject.

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Agreed. Hedging is the norm, not the exception. There’s a large chasm between “may” and “does”, and scientists know to use “may”.

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And anyone who starts out with this as a premise is being dishonest and/or ignorant.

Considering that, by the time we knew enough about DNA for the concept of ‘most DNA is non-coding junk’ to have any meaning, we already knew about several examples of functional non-coding DNA, I don’t think there was ever a time when any informed person would have said ‘all’ non-coding DNA was non-functional junk.


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