The reports show that there is an “encyclopedia of information” and that the new information will rewrite textbooks. The new information also gives scientists and researchers new ideas as to why some people have certain diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
What scientists found consists of an expansive and complex network within the DNA code. This network, via “switches,” tells a person’s genes what to do and when to do it. The switches work like a light switch, turning instructions on and off, according to The Associated Press.
Instead of 80 percent of a person’s DNA being junk, the research shows that 80 percent of a person’s DNA is actually active. According to the Associated Press, that difference is “surprisingly high and is a sharp contract to the idea that the vast majority of our DNA is junk.”
How Does it Work? The familiar helix of DNA contains genes. The genes are what defines each individual person and gives the body “life instructions.” This is called a person’s genetic blueprint, which takes up about 2 percent of the genome. Scientists say that as for the rest of the genome, understanding and knowing what it does has been “murky.”
Scientists also know that regulators within the genome control what the genes do and do not do. For example, one set of genes tells a brain cell what to do while another set of genes tells the liver what to do.
It’s a Jungle: The new network discovery shows that happening on a much broader scale, much like you would zoom out on a map to see other roads in relation to the road you are looking at — a global view, so to speak, according to Elise Feingold of the genome institute.
She said that scientists knew the “detailed chemical makeup of the genome,” but that “we [scientists] did not know how to read it.” Ewan Birney of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Hixton, England said in reference to how much activity is in the genome, “It’s a jungle.”
What is it Doing? Think of the genome as being made up of approximately three billion letters. The letters reside alongside the strands that make up the double helix structure that we know as DNA. The letters are arranged into sequences that make up the genes. About 20,000 of these are genes. The rest of the DNA is outside of the genes. About 75 percent of the genome make RNA, the first step in creating a protein. You may think that this is all it does, but in fact, it appears to help regulate the activity of the genes. Additionally, scientists found more than four million areas where proteins bind or attach to DNA. At these sites, the DNA works like a switch, and, according to Birney, the high number of “switches” is more than scientists were expecting to find.
It is these switches that may help scientists figure out why a disease attacks certain people and not others. Diseases scientists may look for include asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure. The genes that are associated with disease creation seem to lie outside of the genes, which makes scientists questions how a person could be affected with these diseases.
“It’s this incredible choreography going on, of a modest number of genes and an immense number of … switches that are choreographing how those genes are used,” said Dr. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which organized the project.