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Creation 29(2):40–41, March 2007

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Electric DNA


Creation magazine has shown how DNA is the ultimate information storage molecule in the universe.1 We also showed how cutting-edge discoveries refute the idea of ‘junk’ DNA, which doesn’t code for proteins, showing that this has an amazing array of functions that we are only just beginning to learn about. Dr John Mattick, a leading researcher into DNA function, proposes that ‘junk’ DNA acts like an advanced computer operating system.1 More recently, he lamented how the idea that non-protein–coding DNA was just junk had greatly harmed science:

Photo <www.stockxpert.com> DNA
‘The failure to recognize the full implications of [non-protein–coding DNA] may well go down as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology.’2

Electric protection

Another intriguing property is how DNA in cells conducts electricity.1,3 DNA is easily damaged. Some chemicals, including free radicals, attack DNA by stealing an electron from (i.e. oxidizing) one of the bases—the chemical ‘letters’ of the DNA code. The resulting electron ‘hole’ can hop along the DNA, behaving like a positive electric current.

We already reported that some of the ‘junk’ DNA comprises pairings between the ‘letters’ A and T (the bases adenine and thymine), and this blocks this damaging electrical current. These pairings act as insulators or ‘electronic hinges in a circuit’ to protect essential genes from electrical damage from free radicals attacking a distant part of the DNA.1

More recently, Jacqueline Barton of the California Institute of Technology has shown that DNA also uses its electrical properties for protection. At the edge of some genes, there is a string of G ‘letters’ (the base guanine). They readily absorb the electron hole, so the electron hole moves along until it reaches this string of Gs. This deflects the damage from the parts of the DNA that code for proteins.4

This is very much like the principle behind galvanized iron. Here, a coating of a more reactive and less important metal, zinc, sacrificially takes all the oxidation, thus protecting the iron from rusting.

DNA errors are scanned electrically

Such ingenious repair machinery must have been present in all life right from the beginning.

Our cells have elaborate machinery to repair DNA. But with 3 billion ‘letters’ worth of information in every cell, there is a lot to scan for errors.

However, unbroken DNA conducts electricity, while an error blocks the current. Now Dr Barton has found that some repair enzymes exploit this. One pair of enzymes lock onto different parts of a DNA strand. One of them sends an electron down the strand. If the DNA is unbroken, the electron reaches the other enzyme, and causes it to detach. I.e. this process scans the region of DNA between them, and if it’s clean, there is no need for repairs.

But if there is a break, the electron doesn’t reach the second enzyme. This enzyme then moves along the strand until it reaches the error, and fixes it. This mechanism of repair seems to be present in all living things, from bacteria to man.5

Such ingenious repair machinery must have been present in all life right from the beginning, otherwise life could not have survived breaks in its DNA. As scientists discover more of the intricate design of life, we can see more how we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).

Pseudogene not so pseudo

One of the main categories of ‘junk’ DNA is ‘pseudogenes’. Evolutionists claim that they are corrupted and disabled copies of genes. But with all the new discoveries of uses for the ‘junk’, it is becoming increasingly rash to claim that any DNA is ‘useless’.1

Geneticists at Saitama Medical School in Japan have now shown that a pseudogene has a function. They genetically engineered mice to carry a fruit fly gene. The mice were mostly OK, but some died in infancy when the fly gene was inserted into a pseudogene, called Makorin1-p1.2

This shows that the pseudogene has a vital function (otherwise disabling it wouldn’t have mattered), so is not junk at all. The pseudogene has such a similar sequence to the gene, not because it is corrupted from it, but because it was designed that way. The sequences must be highly similar because the pseudogene codes for RNA that allows the ‘real’ gene to operate.3

This is a good lesson—just because we don’t know a function, it is rash to claim that there is no function.

References and notes

  1. Sarfati, J., DNA: marvellous messages or mostly mess? Creation 25(2):26–31, 2003.
  2. Mattick, J., cited in: Gibbs, W.W., The unseen genome: gems among the junk, Scientific American 289(5):26–33, Nov 2003.
  3. This probably works because repressors that bind to the gene’s mRNA will also bind to the pseudogene’s mRNA. Therefore the pseudogene mops up the repressors so the gene is free to code for the protein. See Woodmorappe, J., Pseudogene function: more evidence, J. Creation 17(2):15–18, 2003.

References and notes

  1. Sarfati, J., DNA: marvellous messages or mostly mess? Creation 25(2):26–31, 2003. Return to text.
  2. Mattick, J., cited in: Gibbs, W.W., The unseen genome: gems among the junk, Scientific American 289(5):26–33, Nov 2003. Return to text.
  3. However, more up-to-date information shows that long-distance conduction is probably due to the surrounding water molecules rather than the DNA itself—Biever, C., Electrifying claims dashed, New Scientist 177(2388):17, 29 Mar 2003. But many years later, electron transmission over longer distances was reaffirmed. As quantum mechanics shows, electrons have both wave and particle properties. At first, it was thought that over short-distances, electrons behaved like waves, while over long distances, electrons hopped like particles. But some DNA sequences, especially alternating blocks of five guanine (G) bases on opposite DNA strands, enabled coherent wave behaviour over longer distances, without being disrupted by random motions of the DNA molecule. Duke University, Tailored DNA shifts electrons into the ‘fast lane’: DNA nanowire improved by altering sequences transmission, sciencedaily.com, 20 Jun 2016. Chiral-induced spin selectivity (CISS) thanks to the homochiral sugars may have a role in greatly improving electrical conductivity. Return to text.
  4. Lawton, G., Live wire, New Scientist 177(2386):38–39, 15 March 2003. Return to text.
  5. Ananthaswamy, A., Enzymes scan DNA using electric pulse, New Scientist 180(2417):10, 18 Oct 2003. Return to text.