I am extremely fascinated by the human genome. It started back when I was in high school biology, and we were first learning about the concepts of a genome, chromosomes and genes. Of course, at that point the knowledge presented to me was very basic, but one thing always stood out. We were taught that 99% of the genome is “junk DNA,” meaning we haven’t discovered a function for it, so it must not be important. To me, it was ridiculous that anyone could even begin to believe that this was true, but low and behold, every textbook I checked said the same thing.
Another big shocker came at the beginning of the millennium when the first human genome was sequenced, and scientists discovered that we overestimated the amount of genes we have by oh about 100,000 or so. In reality, we don’t have many more genes than say a worm or a fly. It turns out that most likely it’s the regulation and expression of said genes that makes us humans and not worms, but at first I think that news humbled everyone a little.
In just a few years we have made huge advancements in beginning to decipher the genome and how it works, however many have come to realize that we are just starting to shave ice off the tip of the iceberg. Every single one of our cells (except red blood cells, which don’t have a nucleus) contains a copy of a code (that we hardly understand) capable of producing a complete human being and controlling our entire development, life, and decline. Trying to understand such a system, to me, is incredibly fascinating. So, via graduate research, I decided to work on trying to figure out what some of that “junk DNA” does. So far, it turns out that most of it is pretty important.