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:5/12/2016)... DALLAS , May 12, 2016 ... has just published the overview results from the Q1 ... of the recent wave was consumers, receptivity to a ... wearables data with a health insurance company. ... choose to share," says Michael LaColla , CEO ...
(Date:4/28/2016)... 2016 First quarter 2016:   ... with the first quarter of 2015 The gross margin ... (loss: 18.8) and the operating margin was 40% (-13) ... Cash flow from operations was SEK 249.9 M (21.2) , ... unchanged, SEK 7,000-8,500 M. The operating margin for 2016 ...
(Date:4/15/2016)... -- A new partnership announced today will help life ... a fraction of the time it takes today, ... insurance policies to consumers without requiring inconvenient and ... rapid testing (A1C, Cotinine and HIV) and higi,s ... pulse, BMI, and activity data) available at local ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... June 23, 2016   EpiBiome , a precision ... million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). ... and to advance its drug development efforts, as well ... "SVB has been an incredible strategic partner ... a traditional bank would provide," said Dr. Aeron ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 23, 2016 Apellis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. today ... trials of its complement C3 inhibitor, APL-2. The ... ascending dose studies designed to assess the safety, ... injection in healthy adult volunteers. Forty ... a single dose (ranging from 45 to 1,440mg) ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... 23, 2016 , ... ClinCapture, the only free validated electronic ... showcase its product’s latest features from June 26 to June 30, 2016 for ... Disrupting Clinical Trials in The Cloud during the conference. DIA (Drug Information ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016 adds 2016 ... its pharmaceuticals section with historic and forecast data ... more. Complete report on the Cell ... 15 companies and supported with 261 tables and ... . The Global Cell Culture Media ...
Breaking Biology Technology: