New genetic regulators of regeneration identified

Scientists have discovered that genetic material in the cell that was previously thought to be ‘junk’ because of its apparent lack of function likely plays a part in regulating genetic circuits responsible for regeneration in highly regenerative animals. The discovery could one day lead to the development of drugs to trigger the dormant pathways for regeneration in humans.

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I object to that gloss. No one ever though the DNA was junk in the way that term is understood in the public. DNA regulatory signals have been known about since at least the 1970s, and inferred to exist right when DNA was discovered.


In my experience, any article in the secondary press that uses the phrase “DNA that was previously thought to be junk” is getting it wrong.

The article is using the usual bait and switch tactic. First, they make the false claim that all non-coding DNA was thought to be junk. This is absolutely false. Scientists have known for a long time that there is functional non-coding DNA, going back as far as the 1960’s with the discovery of the lac promoter in E. coli. MicroRNA has also been known to be functional for a while now, and there is strong evidence of sequence conservation for microRNA’s unlike what we see with junk DNA. No one in the last 40 years has said that all non-coding DNA is junk, so that myth needs to be put to bed.

The second bait and switch is the illogical argument that finding function for a tiny portion of non-coding DNA means that all non-coding DNA is functional. Finding a penny on your lawn does not mean your lawn is covered in pennies.

What would be interesting is if anyone could find a paper where the specific DNA sequences discussed in the article were ever described as being junk DNA in any peer reviewed publication.


It is a classic case of uninformed people projecting their personal discovery into a pseudohistory. They thought it was junk till they learned it wasn’t so clearly everyone else thought it was junk until that paper came out.