Navigation Links
Saved by junk DNA

Leuven, Belgium - VIB researchers linked to K.U.Leuven and Harvard University show that stretches of DNA previously believed to be useless 'junk' DNA play a vital role in the evolution of our genome. They found that unstable pieces of junk DNA help tuning gene activity and enable organisms to quickly adapt to changes in their environments. The results will be published in the reputed scientific Journal Science.

Junk DNA

'Most people do not realize that all our genes only comprise about 3% of the total human genome. The rest is basically one large black box', says Kevin Verstrepen, heading the research team. 'Why do we have this DNA, what is it doing?'.

Scientists used to believe that most of the DNA outside of genes, the so-called non-coding DNA, is useless trash that has sneaked into our genome and refuses to leave. One commonly known example of such 'junk DNA' are the so-called tandem repeats, short stretches of DNA that are repeated head-to-tail. 'At first sight, it may seem unlikely that this stutter-DNA has any biological function', says Marcelo Vinces, one of the lead authors on the paper. 'On the other hand, it seems hard to believe that nature would foster such a wasteful system'.

Unstable repeats

The international team of scientists found that stretches of tandem repeats influence the activity of neighboring genes. The repeats determine how tightly the local DNA is wrapped around specific proteins called 'nucleosomes', and this packaging structure dictates to what extent genes can be activated. Interestingly, tandem repeats are very unstable - the number of repeats changes frequently when the DNA is copied. These changes affect the local DNA packaging, which in turn alters gene activity. In this way, unstable junk DNA allows fast shifts in gene activity, which may allow organisms to tune the activity of genes to match changing environments -a vital principle for survival in the endless evolutionary race.

Evolution in test tubes

To further test their theory, the researchers conducted a complex experiment aimed at mimicking biological evolution, using yeast cells as Darwinian guinea pigs. Their results show that when a repeat is present near a gene, it is possible to select yeast mutants that show vastly increased activity of this gene. However, when the repeat region was removed, this fast evolution was impossible. 'If this was the real world' the researchers say 'only cells with the repeats would be able to swiftly adapt to changes, thereby beating their repeat-less counterparts in the game of evolution. Their junk DNA saved their lives'.


Contact: Sooike Stoops
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/17/2015)... 2015  Vigilant Solutions announces today that Mr. ... Directors. --> --> ... the partnership at TPG Capital, one of the largest ... Billion in revenue.  He founded and led TPG,s Operating ... companies, from 1997 to 2013.  In his first role, ...
(Date:11/16/2015)... , Nov 16, 2015  Synaptics Inc. (NASDAQ: ... interface solutions, today announced expansion of its TDDI ... touch controller and display driver integration (TDDI) ... smartphones. These new TDDI products add to the ... resolution), TD4302 (WQHD resolution), and TD4322 (FHD resolution) ...
(Date:11/12/2015)... Nov. 12, 2015  Arxspan has entered into ... and Harvard for use of its ArxLab cloud-based ... tools. The partnership will support the institute,s efforts ... chemical research information internally and with external collaborators. ... for managing the Institute,s electronic laboratory notebook, compound ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/30/2015)... Nov. 30, 2015  Northwest Biotherapeutics (NASDAQ: NWBO ... personalized immune therapies for solid tumor cancers, announced today ... independent director, and the Company welcomes Neil Woodford,s ... a recent anonymous internet report on NW Bio.  The ... Linda Powers stated, "We agree with Mr. ...
(Date:11/27/2015)... ... November 27, 2015 , ... Pittcon is pleased to ... presentations offered in symposia, oral sessions, workshops, awards, and posters. The core ... of applications such as, but not limited to, biotechnology, biomedical, drug discovery, environmental, ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... 2015  PharmAthene, Inc. (NYSE MKT: PIP) announced  today ... rights plan (Rights Plan) in an effort to preserve ... under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). ... use of its NOLs could be substantially limited if ... Section 382 of the Code. In general, an ownership ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... QUEBEC CITY , Nov. 25, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... "Company"), affirms that its business and prospects remain ... , Zoptrex™ (zoptarelin doxorubicin) recently received DSMB ... program to completion following review of the final ... met Phase 2 Primary Endpoint in men with ...
Breaking Biology Technology: