Junk DNA—from science stopper to sickness source

DNA
Illustration ©iStock.com/BlackJack3D

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Published: 4 February 2020 (GMT+10)

The term ‘junk DNA’ became popular in the 1960s. It was used to support neo-Darwinism, since it is widely known that recessive mutations accumulate relentlessly in sexually reproducing multicellular organisms. This happens because natural selection ‘does not see’ the many nearly neutral recessive mutations and thus few of them are eliminated. Until 2012 it was thought that up to 98.5% of the human genome is non-functional, mutational junk that has accumulated during millions of years of evolution. That only 1–2% of our DNA codes for proteins was used to bolster this idea. In 1976 Richard Dawkins summarized this view in his book The Selfish Gene:

“The true ‘purpose’ of DNA is to survive, no more and no less,”

he wrote.

“The simplest way to explain the surplus DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite, or at best a harmless but useless passenger, hitching a ride in the survival machines created by the other DNA.”1

Year after year this view has been repeated by other researchers. Origin of life expert Leslie Orgel and Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) stated in 1980, “Much DNA in higher organisms is little better than junk and can be compared to the spread of a not-too-harmful parasite within its host.”2 And evolutionary biologist Douglas Futuyma declared in 2005, “Only Darwinian evolution can explain why the genome is full of ‘fossil’ genes.”3

Eventually this belief about the majority of DNA being the useless leftovers (or vestiges) from evolution trickled down to the general population; geneticist Francis Collins, in arguing for evolution, was particularly influential in promoting the idea of junk DNA in his popular 2006 book The Language of God; although he has since backtracked on his junk DNA claims.4

In the recent book, Heretic, biochemist Matti Leisola tells of an encounter with students from Fribourg University when he was lecturing in 2008 in Switzerland about evolution’s molecular-level problems. A major objection from some of them, delivered with great confidence, was that junk DNA proved evolution—end of story.5 If evolution were true, the DNA would indeed be saturated with remnants of failed experimental attempts at the production of novel enzymes and functions. However, it is not conceivable that novelties could arise from experimenting on existing functions. That nearly all the DNA is now known to be functional puts genetic entropy firmly back on the table and supports recent creation.

This evidence for evolution was finally eradicated (or should have been) with the publication of the ENCODE project’s first results (Enc yclopedia o f D NA E lements) in 2012.6 This demonstrated that the vast majority of the human genome is functional. Therefore, ‘junk DNA’ is far from being useless remnants left over from past recessive mutations, as materialistic models asserted. This non-protein-coding DNA directs the use of other information in the genome and regulates protein-coding gene function.

Junk DNA helps scientists to better understand how the genome can affect human health

It is now becoming evident that many illnesses are linked to mutations in the non-protein-coding DNA, since only a few rare illnesses can be attributed directly to genes alone. For example, reasons for different forms of cancer and autism may stem from DNA outside the genes. This has enormous implications for health care costs and understanding disease mechanisms.

The whole junk DNA debacle has sabotaged medical research for over 40 years! We need desperately to stimulate the development of new therapies to prevent and treat diseases. The non-coding-DNA contains the ‘switches’ that regulate up to 80% of the genome.

Does it prove design?

There are four principal types of junk DNA (i.e. non-coding-DNA). Introns are internal segments within genes that are removed when DNA is transcribed into mRNA prior to protein synthesis. ‘Pseudogenes’ are said to be genes which have been inactivated by mutation. Satellite sequences are short repeats of DNA. And interspersed repeats are longer repetitive sequences, mostly derived from ’mobile’ DNA elements.

Contrary to Darwinian claims, recent scientific discoveries have shown that this ‘junk’ directs the production of regulatory RNA molecules that oversee the use of the protein-coding regions of DNA. They have a plethora of functions, such as regulation of DNA replication and transcription. They influence the proper folding and maintenance of chromosomes. They control RNA processing, editing, and splicing and modulate translation. They regulate embryological development and DNA repair. They aid in fighting disease.

Junk DNA holds the genome together!

Researchers at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have determined how satellite DNA, formerly considered to be ‘junk DNA’, plays a crucial role in holding the genome together. Their findings, published recently in the journal eLife, indicate that this genetic ‘junk’ performs the vital function of ensuring that chromosomes bundle correctly inside the cell’s nucleus, which is essential for cell survival.7

All or nothing!

According to neo-Darwinism, new biological information is produced by a process of mutational trial and error. But why should nonfunctional DNA accumulate in the genomes of eukaryotic organisms if it is useless? Why would natural selection not dispose of this burden of useless copying? The Creation model of biology, on the other hand, predicts that nonprotein-coding sequences would perform some biological function. Another obvious problem for neo-Darwinism is that a viable organism requires all functions to be present at the same time for a flawless operation.

The acceptance of Creation actually encourages scientific research. If organisms are designed, most or all of their DNA would be expected to be functional. This encourages researchers to look for functionality in the so-called ‘junk DNA’. At the moment, a race is on: Who can find the most functions in the parts of DNA earlier deemed to be evolutionary junk?8

Finding functions for junk DNA is an existential threat to neo-Darwinism

The concept of the genome as a complex information system represents an existential threat to modern evolutionary theory in general and, in particular, the predictions of neo-Darwinism regarding so-called ‘junk DNA’. Experimental science has turned against them. Neo-Darwinists generally concede that evolution’s trial-and-error process of random mutations and natural selection is doomed to produce large amounts of waste material—junk DNA. They claimed that DNA was mostly junk code that had accumulated over millions of years of evolutionary trial and error. Although some biologists warned against assuming this genetic material was useless junk, the idea spread rapidly through science journals and textbooks as important evidence of blind, trial-and-error evolution.4 Junk DNA has turned from being creation’s enemy to the Creator’s master switch network.

References and notes

  1. Dawkins, C.R., The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, p. 47, 1976. Return to text.
  2. Orgel, L.E. & Crick, F.H.C., Selfish DNA: the ultimate parasite, Nature 284:604–607, 17 April 1980; nature.com |doi:10.1038/284604a0. Return to text.
  3. Futuyma, D.J., Evolution, Sinauer Associates, MA, USA, pp. 48–49, 2005. Return to text.
  4. Klinghoffer, D., On junk DNA claim, Francis Collins walks it back, admitting ‘hubris’, evolutionnews.org, 19 July 2016. This is discussed in: Carter, R., Reading evolution into the Scriptures, Journal of Creation 31(2):41–46, August 2017; creation.com/adam-and-the-genome-review. Return to text.
  5. Leisola, M. & Witt, J., Heretic: One Scientist’s journey from Darwin to Design, Discovery Institute Press, USA, 2018. Return to text.
  6. The pilot project report of the ENCODE consortium of scientists was published five years previously; see creation.com/astonishing-dna-complexity-update, 3 July 2007. Return to text.
  7. Scientists discover a role for ‘junk’ DNA, sciencedaily.com, 11 April 2018; accessed 21 November 2019. Return to text.
  8. Junk DNA; allaboutscience.org; accessed 21 November 2019. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Gina T.
A great article. Many thanks Pekka!
Indeed, the concept of 'junk DNA' is still very much in the human psyche. People rest comfortably in this error. But we wrestle not against flesh and blood, so I would encourage all Christians to pray that God will continue to bless those working to sever the stronghold of 'junk DNA'. Thank you for your work CMI.
Dan M.
Once again, man's rebellion is killing us, (literally) by failing to see the paint on the wall. God said in the garden; if you rebel against Me, (eat of the tree) you die, (Gen 3:3). It's not about any kind of fruit? It's about behaving and reaping the benefits and we've failed miserably. It was more than just a test and God didn't learn anything about us; He already knew we would rebel. He wanted to show us the folly of rebellion against Him and also the salvation of those who would love Him and obey Him from the heart, (Joh 14:21). He separates us out from the rebellious for Himself, (Mat 3:12).
If a person wants to cling to false religion out of rebellion; they will invent false gods and heresies to justify that belief. That is what the idea of evolution is; a heresy against God's science and nature. An attempt to explain away an infinitely wise creator, to make them confident in and at peace with their rebellion. I believe it was Richard Dawkins, (not sure) who stated, "evolutionary science has made atheism respectable". Well, it hasn't and it's time to wake up and smell the coffee. Evolution doesn't reasonably explain anything and times a growing short!
John W.
Great article. I was alarmed to discover that as recently as the 1960s some surgeons removed sections of patients intestines on the basis of evolutionary philosophy. IBS and many, if not all digestive disorders, were assumed to result from humans changing to an upright stance. The effects on the patients were obviously detrimental. Only the Lord knows the full damage the poisonous fantasy of vestigial redundancy has wrought however.
Brian S.
"Junk DNA" is simply a rehashed "Vestigial Organ" argument... Basically, "We don't know what it does, therefore it must be useless!" You would think that the fate of the vestigial organ argument would've led them to be more cautious.
Sami L.
In computer programs vital elements are loops and the core control in the loops are counters. The system needs to know how many times the loop needs to be run. Counter is represented as a number growing towards the target at steps of one. When the target it reached, the loop has done its job. (Naturally in practise this is many times more complex, simplifying for the sake of argument.)

DNA and its surrounding epigenetics (messages, markers and protein machines) is a program. The derived question from the above is then: where are the counters and the loops?

Just throwing this in: repeating DNA sections represent the counter space and a marker there the current round, as there are no numbers to be used for counters and loops.
Frank D.
Brian S.'s comment that the doctrine is "we don't know what it does so it must be useless" helped me realize that atheists are falling into the same God of the gaps argument they accuse Christians of engaging in. "We don't know what it does so it must be useless" is essentially the same argument as "we don't know how it happened so God must have done it", but much different from "God said he did this, so let's accept that God did, in fact, do it".

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