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The Gene Is Having an Identity Crisis

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the more-complicated-than-you-thought dept.

Biotech 257

gollum123 writes "New large-scale studies of DNA are causing a rethinking of the very nature of genes. A typical gene is no longer conceived of as a single chunk of DNA encoding a single protein. It turns out, for example, that several different proteins may be produced from a single stretch of DNA. Most of the molecules produced from DNA may not even be proteins, but rather RNA. The familiar double helix of DNA no longer has a monopoly on heredity: other molecules clinging to DNA can produce striking differences between two organisms with the same genes — and those molecules can be inherited along with DNA. Scientists have been working on exploring the 98% of the genome not identified as the protein-coding region. One of the biggest of these projects is an effort called the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, or 'Encode.' And its analysis of only 1% of the genome reveals the genome to be full of genes that are deeply weird, at least by the traditional standard of what a gene is supposed to be and do. The Encode team estimates that the average protein-coding region produces 5.7 different transcripts. Different kinds of cells appear to produce different transcripts from the same gene. And it gets even weirder. Our DNA is studded with millions of proteins and other molecules, which determine which genes can produce transcripts and which cannot. New cells inherit those molecules along with DNA. In other words, heredity can flow through a second channel."

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Memory RNA (2, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727313)

A thread on DNA and its relationship to RNA gives me a chance to ask: what ever happened to the idea that memory was encoded in RNA? In 1970s science fiction novels like Niven's A World out ot Time [amazon.com] , you had people learning new skills through the injection of RNA. When did it become clear that RNA had nothing to do with memory?

Re:Memory RNA (4, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727393)

The answer lies in the RTFW (Read The F'in Wikipedia) article about Memory RNA [wikipedia.org]:

One experiment that was purported to show a chemical basis for memory involved training planaria to solve an extremely simple "maze", then grinding them up and feeding them to untrained planaria to see if they would be able to learn more quickly. The experiment seemed to show such an effect, but it was later determined that the original planaria had left chemical tracks inside the maze itself that were not properly cleaned away before the next set of planaria were run.

It's not a complete explanation, but it implies that pathfinding behavior(e.g. getting out of a maze) had much more to do with following a chemical "bread crumb" trail than using memory alone.

Re:Memory RNA (1, Interesting)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727681)

More interesting still was his machine that took cell detritus and 'instant elsewhere'd' it to an adjoining chamber. The idea being to flush the junk from cells and cause a fountain of rejuvenation. FTA, it might be one day feasible to ride a cell of bad or junk RNA.

Re:Memory RNA (3, Interesting)

thepotoo (829391) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727401)

Well, I've not learned about RNA holding memory in any of my classes, and even Wikipedia has little to say [wikipedia.org] on the subject.

I'd venture a guess that it's not correct (simply not enough evidence supporting it, but that has not yet been ruled out either [nih.gov].

The bottom line is that we do not yet fully understand memory, in much the same way that we do not fully understand synapse formation in the brain. We should just wait and see before jumping to any conclusions (and maybe write a grant proposal or two along the way).

Re:Memory RNA (1)

SlashThat (859697) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727417)

Well, it might sound like a cool idea, but this just wouldn't work. This kind of "memory" would be to slow to be useful, since it would involve long biological processes to decode the RNA (or DNA). It would be like storing a program's memory page on an external floppy disk.

Re:Memory RNA (2, Insightful)

Atmchicago (555403) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727451)

A very simple answer is that RNA degrades *extremely* rapidly. Injecting RNA could feasibly give a short change in phenotype, but it is hard to imagine that RNA would be able to encode something as long-lasting as memory.

Re:Memory RNA (4, Informative)

joe_bruin (266648) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727661)

RNA is a copy of DNA created by an enzyme called RNA Polymerase [wikipedia.org]. All RNA Polymerase does is a simple copy. There is no mechanism for creating "new" RNA that contains data that is not already present in your genes. That is, your body does not contain any device that can write memory information to RNA strands.

And you know this because (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727927)

...you have exhaustively searched through every gene in the human genome, conclusively proven that there is no such structure, and can link to several of the thousands of papers that you published on the topic for which you won your second Nobel for.


Re:Memory RNA (2, Insightful)

rnaiguy (1304181) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728253)

Sorry, not true. There ARE mechanisms for creating new RNA not encoded in the DNA. Enzymes can shuffle around RNA sequence (as in RNA splicing), or change single nucleotides. Interestingly, the base changes occur most often in the nervous system of mammals. However, as mentioned, RNA doesn't stick around long enough to be responsible for memory. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rna_editing [wikipedia.org]

So, what we REALLY need is . . . (4, Insightful)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727317)

. . . A Human Genome Interpreter Project.

Re:So, what we REALLY need is . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727367)

The Parrot folks hope that Perl, Python and human DNA will compile to the same bytecode.

Re:So, what we REALLY need is . . . (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727385)

Yes, but Deep Thought says Earth will take some time to figure it out.

Re:So, what we REALLY need is . . . (3, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727477)

How long does it take to compute 42?

Oh wait, we already have 42. What was the question again?

Re:So, what we REALLY need is . . . (2, Funny)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727665)

How many genes must a geneticist wear out before we call it a gene?

Re:So, what we REALLY need is . . . (2, Insightful)

evilbessie (873633) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728227)

I like that they were allowed to call 98% of their results junk without having much understanding of the other 2%.

I Knew It (5, Funny)

Nyall (646782) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727357)

Not only does God code in machine language, but it is all spaghetti. Thats probably why eventually malfunction and die.

Re:I Knew It (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727441)

Well, yeah. Some of the best evidence that christian or muslim creationists are full of shit is that, well, god's "designs" *suck*. An omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent god should be less of a freaking moron. About the only religion in that general abrahamic family that made a slight bit of sense there was gnostic christianity - the mad, retarded but nigh-on all-powerful demiurge Samael spewed out the sucky material world.

Re:I Knew It (4, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727495)

You have it backwards. God doesn't code in spaghetti machine language. The FSM itself coded God.

Re:I Knew It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727673)

I have tomato in my harddrive

Re:I Knew It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25728109)

Can't be spaghetti - Collins' book say "God's language is DNA and mathematics". The question is the intrinsic mathematics of Genome Informatics. By now, gene has long become "FractoGene"; one part here, another a chromosome away... Type "Pellionisz" into your YouTube field for a Google Tech Talk on fractal mathematics of the web AND the genome.


Re:I Knew It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25728167)

I know! You'd have to be some kind of a Perl hacker to suggest we're intelligently designed.

Re:I Knew It (4, Funny)

Repton (60818) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728219)

Well, what do you expect when you knock off a major project in under a week?

Surprise, surprise! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727359)

This from the people who claimed that most of the DNA in our cells was just junk. I wonder why they were so bloody arrogant? Couldn't they just have acknowledged that they had no clue?

Re:Surprise, surprise! (1, Insightful)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727521)

Real scientists will know and acknowledge they don't know everything. The hacks think and try to convince you otherwise.

Re:Surprise, surprise! (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727917)

There are plenty of very good scientists who actually are blindly arrogant, but still able to produce important work. And there are some modest people with a realistic understanding of the limitations of human kowledge who nonetheless have very little to contribute in terms of significant research.

Crick, for example, really believed that he had pretty much covered it all. He was arrogant beyond belief. Yet he is still a real scientist.

Re:Surprise, surprise! (1)

GigaHurtsMyRobot (1143329) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727611)

I wish humility, modesty, and reality crept into science more often. We don't have half a clue to be able to emphatically declare much at all. Just about every conclusion that is drawn should be followed by, ".. but we could totally be wrong, so don't bet your life on it or start a new diet fad or anything like that."

Re:Surprise, surprise! (3, Informative)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727763)

It has been known for a long time that junk DNA wasn't junk. However its one of those catchy memes that has persisted it the general public far longer then it was believed to be true.

Re:Surprise, surprise! (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728079)

This from the people who claimed that most of the DNA in our cells was just junk.

Really, the same people? I think not. DNA that doesn't seem to get used in protein synthesis in the well-understood mechanisms as "junk" is, as I understand it, mostly an misperception of popularization, not something that has ever been the dominant understanding in the field.

Re:Surprise, surprise! (4, Insightful)

thasmudyan (460603) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728471)

Computer memory is actually a pretty good analogy for this: the "unused" DNA is not reachable by any "pointers" and thus wasn't important when eucaryote evolution began. Some of these areas are obviously non-coding ever-repeating nonsense sequences, others appear to be random information - exactly like unused RAM in a computer system. Of course, nothing in there is really random, it's just a product of whatever process happened to use the areas before.

Here's the catch, however. Just like a programmer who develops against an ancient API with a lot of well-known bugs and workarounds, some transcription mechanisms actually began to rely on the presence of the "useless" areas in order to work.

It's all a huge mess, the deeper you look, the less elegant it all becomes. For example, epigenetic mechanisms modify the meaning of DNA code depending on different contexts, as the article mentioned. But that's still not the whole picture. In order to create a protein, DNA is first transcribed into RNA, which then in turn gets executed in order to assemble the protein. However, the intermediate RNA information is modified beyond recognition before it is used. Then, after the protein is finally assembled, it too can be modified extensively. All of these steps are hopelessly interwoven, and they use zillions of chemical messenger signals in order to tweak an manipulate each other.

Genetics really is the worst spaghetti code project ever and I assume that more advanced (=complex) organisms really paint themselves into an evolutionary corner eventually, because the whole system - while beautifully specialized - is essentially becoming more and more difficult to alter meaningfully when radical change needs to happen.

FIRST (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727377)

my fart is smelly

Biology 101 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727383)

Apparently some of us haven't taken it. Its been known for a very long time exons, introns, methylation, etc. all play roles in expression of a protien. Congratulations for sitting through the second day of the class. Now lets continue the real news please.

I hate the New York Times (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727397)

I hate the New York Times with their obsession to make me register. I of course don't but it sucks to go to read a news article and then find their annoying sign-in page. And I don't really understand it because I'd assume they'd want me to go to their page but I guess they don't want it that much.

How is any of this new? (4, Informative)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727405)

Epigenetics [wikipedia.org]
RNA Splincing [wikipedia.org]
siRNA [wikipedia.org]

Re:How is any of this new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727519)

I was just thinking the same thing, I thought that epigenetics was quite well-established already. BTW, for anyone who's interested in a decent documentary about the subject should check out Nova's 'Ghost in your genes'.

Re:How is any of this new? (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727595)

OK, well now that I actually read the article its a pretty good one. Anyway heres what is new (at least to me): "the Encode scientists estimate that a staggering 93 percent of the genome produces RNA transcripts"

Re:How is any of this new? (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728163)

Nevermind they were just talking about transcription factor binding sites. None of this is new stuff.

Re:How is any of this new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25728235)

Among many other things: pervasive trans-splicing and large scale transcription out of coding frame.
If that is not new and strange for you, you might want to sent a letter to nature.

Re:How is any of this new? (1)

TimFenn (924261) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728265)

I find the article to be more of a review of past work than actual news. It covers several topics that anyone could read about by picking up a recent biology textbook (siRNA, the ribosome, alternative splicing, etc). I'm surprised this is on the front page of slashdot, while Nature dedicated almost an entire issue [nature.com] regarding the future of DNA technology, including the current state-of-the-art on personalized genomes. Now that is news for nerds.

Re:How is any of this new? (1)

keypox (1236860) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728475)

yeah and on top of that the genetics class i took a few years ago had all this "new" info lol. Also DNA never goes straight to protein. It goes DNA > RNA > protein... Also DNA is coiled to either turn it on or off. This is all old commonly known.

So, as a car analogy... (1)

RabidMoose (746680) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727415)

...we had been assuming that the layout of cupholders determines what the make/model is?
Somebody help me out here, I'm on pain meds and not thinking at 100% capacity...

Re:So, as a car analogy... (1)

Zekasu (1059298) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727461)

Sort of like that. Take it more as, "The layout of the cupholders determines what shape the console/dash of the car is, which determines what kind of lights are used for the dash, which determines what kind of seats can be put in the car, [...], which determines what make/model you eventually get."

At least that's how I understand it. Too many assumptions, if you ask me, but I'm not a biologist.

Re:So, as a car analogy... (1)

Simply Curious (1002051) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727507)

We had been assuming that the blueprints to the car are always kept in the glove compartment.

Instead, we found out that most of the blueprints are in the glove compartment, but that they need the secret decoder rings that are kept in the trunk, under the seats, and in the gas tank. Furthermore, parts of the blueprint simply say "Look at how it was made in this car and do the same thing."

Re:So, as a car analogy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727525)

We had been telling people (newspaper reporters) that the easiest way to tell the difference between two types of cars is to look at the hood ornament, and the people (newspaper reporters) disseminated this information, leaving out the 'easiest way' part.

anyone educated in the field knows that ornaments are capable of lying, and are shared between different models, but as a first approximation its pretty decent.

What you read in the news about science is 30% factual but irrelevant, 50% inaccurate but in a not-that-harmful way, and 20% wildly wrong.

(And my statistics are 100% off the top of my head)

Re:So, as a car analogy... (4, Insightful)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728101)

Think of it this way- if your protein-coding genes are the blueprints for a car, then epigenetics are the blueprints, operating procedures, and logistics for a mass production automobile factory. By reading your genes, you can find out the kinds of proteins that make you up. Similarly, car blueprints tell you how to make a car. A car, just one car. However, your cells are not putting out handbuilt cars. It's a modern Toyota factory going on in there, with continuous production and assembly. It's a marvel of mass production, with transcription, splicing, translation, post-translational modification, and relocation to the site of use all going on in multiple sites constantly. Production has to be carefully coordinated to make sure you have the right amounts of the right proteins delivered at the right times.

Epigenetics is the guy at the factory who knows how many cars to build this month, and the guy who makes sure that 10,000 cars have 10,000 steering wheels available to put in. Epigenetics is the guy who tells the line to hold up on building doors, because there's a surplus of doors in the warehouse already and we should use those first. Epigenetics is not the stuff you are made of, but rather a system of production control of that stuff.

Shades of Star Wars (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727421)

And do the midichlorians also carry the force?

Seriously, though, I thought we already had mitochondria living in our cells that were also inherited...

Re:Shades of Star Wars (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727509)

In Episode V Yoda said the force is everywhere. In the trees, in the rocks, between the earth and the X-Wing. How do midichlorians even come remotely close to explaining any of that?

Re:Shades of Star Wars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727801)

Option 1 - Yoda was wrong/lying

Option 2 - Yoda was using a metaphor to help luke train up quicker (the boy ain't too bright, better not confuse him with all the technical mumbo jumbo)

Iron. (1)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728055)

As much as I was unpleasantly gobsmacked by the Midichlorians thing, I do recognize it as an earnest attempt on Lucas' part to match up his universe with the real one.

In Star Wars, the Force IS out there, like water in a river and we are all little row boats bobbing in the current. --To manipulate the water, (the Force), you need something to stick in the water. Like midichlorians, the more 'Oars' you have to work with, the more you can alter how the Force affects you. (Sorry. That's a horrible metaphor, but it's the best I was able to come up in the moment).

In our reality, one opinion is that the vital particles in question are Iron atoms. --Our version of the 'Force' is simply referred to as 'Energy', and it has both similar and very different properties as compared to the Star Wars simplicities. --Keeping in mind that Lucas scooped the Star Wars magic system whole cloth from our own world.

But of course, there is not 'magic'. Nothing happens without a reason, and the same is true of our world. There is always an underlying mechanic which can be measured and understood given enough time and insight.


Re:Shades of Star Wars (2, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728081)

The Force is everywhere, just as Yoda said. The ability for a sentient being to manipulate the Force comes only via midichlorians.

There's your explanation.

And yes, it's still retarded. Best to pretend that never happened.

Re:Shades of Star Wars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25728191)

Well, when you're 900 years old, you'll probably sometimes get "The Buddha Nature" and "The Force" confused sometimes too!

Those bastards. (1)

Brian.Kirby (1328523) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727425)

Damnit! I get a C in biology, and now they go and change the curriculum. I knew I was right when I decided to focus on physics and math.

Re:Those bastards. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727865)

Well, math anyway, because physics is next...

Well.. (1)

Zekasu (1059298) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727443)

For the sake of efficiency, it would make sense that some of our DNA is RNA, considering you'd be holding somewhere between the massive amount of information DNA would normally carry, and copies of that massive amount of data.

The thing that truly bothers about this article, disregarding the whole "double helix is no longer a viable model" part, is the fact that it's taken so long for someone to admit that the old presumption of, "Okay, so... See this pair of A-G molecules right here in your genome? That means you have blue eyes.", is an incorrect way of thinking. I mean, for the sake of efficiency, changing one pair of DNA molecules around would probably have multiple changes, rather than just one. I mean, how could a piece of information that describes virtually every feature of the human body store information about how a cell is reflective of blue light, 2 picometers wide, and takes a certain combination of chemicals to make.

Personally, I think this "advancement", if it's true and not another kdawrson new story, could help immensely in decoding DNA sequences and modifying DNA. Heck, it might even one day eliminate cancer.

Inteligent Design (4, Funny)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727445)

Who would have thought God coded DNA using Perl...

so what to call the full package? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727459)

Since the genome doesn't contain all the information that a person inherits biologically, what should we call the full package of inherited RNA, proteins, bacteria cultures, and who knows what else?

Re:so what to call the full package? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727659)

Mom and dad?

Re:so what to call the full package? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727805)

Mom and dad?

Nope. Even if you just consider the genome, you only get half from each. The other half of their genome you don't get.

Re:so what to call the full package? (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727725)

Imagine: a little molecular salt on that embryo, and we could make Johnny a genius and 7 feet tall!!

New cells inherit those molecules along with DNA.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727499)

> "In other words, heredity can flow through a second channel"

This is not heredity unless these molecules self-replicate. But they don't - they are transcribed or translated from DNA or created by the products of DNA.

Re:New cells inherit those molecules along with DN (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727783)

I think what they are saying is that they are present in the sperm and/or egg along with the dna. That they don't come from dna. You could have two exact sets of dna, but different other molecules, which would result in different proteins being created. Those molecules must be create from dna at some point, but not with out the help of other pre-existing molecules of non dna. So DNA doesn't have all of the information needed to create everything in the cell.

Re:New cells inherit those molecules along with DN (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727995)

Your DNA is actually wrapped around complexes of protiens called Histones and these protiens can be modified to stick together or not. Ones that don't stick together make the genes easy to be expressed, and those that do aren't expressed. This along with modification of the actual DNA making it harder to be expressed (methylation) is what is passed down via the sperm/egg.

...or not (3, Interesting)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727511)

Don't take my word for it, take the word of a cellular biologist [scienceblogs.com].

Re:...or not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25728289)

Don't take my word for it, take the word of a cellular biologist [scienceblogs.com].

Some good points, but in the old model all promoters etc. interact with proteins.
Hence I would call the fact that not all gene effects are mediated by protein (maybe not even the majority) a paradigm shift. Especially considering that a lot of these ncRNAs might be much weirder then microRNAs.

Re:...or not (1)

tobiah (308208) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728299)

He doesn't really refute anything in TFA, he just complains that this is old news, and gives his own summary.

It is all about EPIGENETICS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727535)

DNA is a dead sequence that is stripped bare.

In vivo, DNA is configured in chromosomes with surrounding structure and with methylation patterns to cause gene expression for a particular runtime configuration of each cell type. From sex cell, to embryo, to full grown adult. Different configurations with different outcomes based on the actual life experiences encountered in each individual.

The idea of the first sequences of genomes as an endpoint is replaced by a genome that is just the beginning of a beginning. All the meat exists in the runtime of all these cells and cell lines and each instance of cell and cell lines.

Should keep the scientists happily busy forever.

This is why... (2, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727641)

...I'm not (yet) convinced of the value of the gene-mapping you can currently buy. $1000+ and you get back a description that is essentially meaningless because they don't really understand how the genes work yet. You get tested for a handful of conditions which have genetic links, but not all. (Genetic studies have shown there to be 7 forms of ME, according to the specific genetic cause, but very few labs will test for any of them yet.) Without knowing more about how genes work, it is impossible to know if what these studies reveal is even an accurate reflection of the genetics behind such conditions.

Alongside that is an argument in the reverse direction. If genes are not necessarily contiguous and/or can have ill-defined boundaries and/or can have components off the main DNA itself, then there is a definite possibility that there may be additional regions that could be useful for deep ancestry and genealogical DNA testing. This could help enormously as current research is pushing the limits of what is knowable using the regions and markers that are currently available. Entire haplogroup trees have been redefined because new information has revealed flaws in the previous models. More data, preferably more data that changes slowly, could be useful in getting these models right rather than continuously patching them.

How many genes does it take to invent a light bulb (4, Interesting)

cutecub (136606) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727683)

I recall people freaking out when the human genome project revealed that Humans only have about 30,000 genes rather than the previous estimate of 150K.

It always seemed to me that measuring Human complexity based on the number of our genes is a little like judging a book by the number of words it contains. It completely ignores the fact that words have Meaning.

Poetry is both the most compact and the most subtle form of written expression.

This latest finding suggests to me that something similar applies to our genetic heritage.



Re:How many genes does it take to invent a light b (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727857)

I'm sorry to say,
your genes are a complete mess
and not poetic.

Re:How many genes does it take to invent a light b (3, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728061)

I recall people freaking out when the human genome project revealed that Humans only have about 30,000 genes rather than the previous estimate of 150K.

It always seemed to me that measuring Human complexity based on the number of our genes is a little like judging a book by the number of words it contains. It completely ignores the fact that words have Meaning.

Uh, I remember when they discovered that too, and I don't recall any scientists "freaking out" because the low number of genes implied we had low "complexity". Instead, I remember them being very excited, because they already knew there are far more than 30,000 proteins generated from our DNA, meaning that the 1:1 gene:protein mapping theory had to be wrong, and the mechanism was far more complicated than previously thought.

This sounds to me like a continuation of the line of inquiry opened by that discovery years ago, where now they're gaining a better idea of how the genes really code for proteins. With the extremely interesting aspect that some of this is controlled by things not part of the DNA itself, yet which can still be inherited.

To (ab)use your analogy, if the human body is a work of literature then proteins are the words, and genes are characters. The number of words hasn't changed, it's just that before we thought the language was like Chinese, where a single character mapped to a single word. Now we realize it's more like English, where the interactions between characters create different words. Oh and now we've discovered that there's also punctuation like apostrophes and hyphens which can significantly alter the meaning of the resulting words.

wow! there's stuff we don't know? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25727707)

i know how the typical faggot on here likes to think that we're so advanced by at this point we shouldn't be too surprised about this. i guess there are those of us who are honest about our scientific knowledge and those of us who are living a star trek dream.

btw; whoever labeled this drm is a faggot and a fucktard and should just keep to the riaa articles. you one track mind bitches are bringing the rest of us down. fucking faggots.

Evolution is bound to be messy. (1)

Melibeus (94008) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727799)

I'm not surprised that this is very complex. There's no reason that we should expect the outcome of a stochastic process to be elegant and simple. It's more evidence (as if we really need more!) that there is no designer.

An analog? (2, Interesting)

jlowery (47102) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727831)

Does anyone else see the resemblence between DNA and crufted up old legacy software? Concepts about how heredity works get turned on their head once the mechanisms are examined in detail. I expect next it will be discovered that there are bugs in the DNA transcoding that are fixed by patches which in turn have patches.

Re:An analog? (1)

JesseMcDonald (536341) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728401)

Does anyone else see the resemblence between DNA and crufted up old legacy software?

Well, imagine that this software started out as a simple "hello-world" program, and that every time the requirements changed -- a frequent occurence -- it was updated by repeatedly making the smallest change required to bring it a bit more in line with the requirements, with no regard at all to readability or maintenance. Further assume that random changes are being made all the time, and are only removed when a customer registers a complaint.

The result would probably look something like DNA.

Not at all surprising, given the history (2, Informative)

Mode_Locrian (1130249) | more than 5 years ago | (#25727901)

The term 'gene' has undergone quite a bit of change in its history, so this isn't really all that surprising in light of this. The term was originally coined (probably by Mendel himself, but I don't remember) to mean roughly "whatever is responsible for the observable results of hybridization experiments" and later, with the advent of molecular biology, came to be shorthand for referring to a molecular structure of a certain kind. It's an interesting question of course, whether those definitions are coextensive (my bet is they aren't) and these latest findings are just evidence of a new conceptual (or at least terminological) shift. See Stotz and Griffiths "Gene" (2005) (to appear in Cambridge companion to philosophy of biology, and also can be viewed online at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00002494/ [pitt.edu] )

argh! (-1, Troll)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25728093)

Just wait until the conservatives read this. It'll reignite the debate about whether there's a gay gene or not. Now we have to go looking for gay proteins, gay RNA, and gay molecules. GATTAGAAAGACATAGGA... Clearly gay. See here, under the scanning electron microscope we can clearly see the protein sporting a fabulous haircut, a white dress shirt with the top button undone, and not wearing socks. Watson, bring me my doughnut!

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