ENCODE: Exciting research but little consequences

Yesterday I saw that  huge attention was drawn towards the Encode paper in Nature which claimed that 80% of the DNA elements in the human genome has a biochemical function.

The results are indeed stunning. Scientists have longtime believed that most of the human genome was junk DNA (elements that do not have any function) but now it is shown that in contrary to that, many regions outside the protein-coding genes also have a biochemical function.

In order to determine the function to the genome they studied 147 different cell types and the biggest conclusion that they made was that junk DNA is no more. From the ID-community this was seen as a confirmation of the prediction of ID and several evolutionists responded with harsh critique of the research.

For quite some time I was thinking about the non-functional junk DNA concept, and I provided in a previous post the thought that more function of the genome gives me more credibility to the concept of a designer. Still I think that one of the major concepts from evolutionary theory slowly starts to change, although Laurence A. Moran and several others are agreeing to disagree.

No problem with that, they will come to peace with the results.

But does function really equates design? Todd Wood disagrees. He thinks that Encode is of little relevance to creation science. He provides some useful links to old  posts he wrote, which illustrate the principle in which organs have some function, but still are vestigial.

This boils down – if I am right – to the question that Nick Matzke provides at the Panda’s  Thumb. He said that the scientists that are involved in the ENCODE project use a liberal and dubious definition of functional. And that be all means it was already known that non-functional DNA would be functional when subjected to that liberal definition.

From the creationist community Todd Wood has written an excellent blogpost about it. He shows that the relevance for creation science is only limited. Furthermore he notes:

Meanwhile, yes, the press and press releases are exaggerating and distorting things as usual.  Yes, it’s annoying.  What bothers me more this time is this undercurrent I’m seeing that basically perceives this latest hyperbole as especially egregious because creationists will misunderstand the results and use them for propaganda purposes.  I hope no one is actually suggesting that scientists ought to modify the presentation of their results to prevent creationists from misusing them?  Perhaps even … dare I say it? … censor themselves to prevent creationists from taking advantage?  Because that really is starting to sound like an anticreationist conspiracy.

He is right, creationist use whatever paper they can get, and I often see claims which later have to be corrected. Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak. Use knowledge with caution and first think before you say anything.

Especially in science, don’t ever say major things based on one paper. Major things are normally not suddenly found, and a scientific framework is built up stone by stone.


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